The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 9: An Eye for an Eye
The following is a plot summary and analysis of Season 7, Episode 9 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.
The Fellowship of the Dig meets in the War Room to discuss their next course of action in light of their recent discovery of Shaft 2. The treasure hunters agree that they ought to search for the remnants of the 14-foot-long tunnel said to have connected Shaft 2 with the original Money Pit. In a later interview, Rick Lagina elaborates on their reasoning, saying, “Now the critical piece of missing information is ‘what is the orientation of the tunnel?’. Does it go west by southwest, or does it go west by northwest? Where does it lie?”
Doug Crowell and Steve Guptill proceed to the Money Pit area, where they mark a location at which they suspect that Shaft 2 tunnel might be located. Colton Robinson and Mike Tedford of Choice Drilling then prepare to sink a hole at the prescribed location.
Meanwhile, Gary Drayton, and Peter Fornetti head to the bump-out of the Smith’s Cove cofferdam, where they search for metallic artifacts in earth that has been freshly turned by Billy Gerhardt. First, Drayton unearths a clump of earth which appears to contain iron. “[There] might be a goodie hidden inside,” Drayton suggests, before putting the object to the side.
While the treasure hunters work, Billy Gerhardt points out a cluster of flat rocks which he unearthed, which evoke the flat rocks of which the Smith’s Cove box drains were said to be comprised. The heavy equipment operator digs in the area with his excavator and unearths what appears to be a fragment of a vertically-aligned timber. The treasure hunters show the find to Rick Lagina, Doug Crowell, and Terry Matheson, the latter of whom expresses his opinion that the large rocks surrounding the timber lie in such profusion that they must have been placed there by man. Gerhardt removes more rock and earth surrounding the timber, revealing a wooden structure which Doug Crowell suggests might be the remains of a wharf or pier. In a later interview, Rick Lagina puts forth the notion that this new structure might simply be an extension of the slipway, or perhaps a much older structure on top of which the slipway was constructed.
Later that day, Terry Matheson and Dave Blankenship head to the Money Pit area, where Choice Drilling is busy sinking Borehole F-14 in the hope of intersecting the Shaft 2 tunnel. Matheson explains that they hope to encounter the tunnel somewhere between 89-105 feet below the surface. The drill reaches a depth of 89 feet without encountering anything other than in-situ soil, just as expected. The treasure hunters then examine a core sample taken from a depth of 99-105 feet- their target depth. Sure enough, the sample contains a large chunk of wood at the 100-foot depth, which Matheson suggests must constitute a piece of either the floor or ceiling of the Shaft 2 tunnel. Elated, the treasure hunters agree that they must locate at least one more piece of the Shaft 2 tunnel in order to fully determine its orientation, and subsequently the location of the original Money Pit.
The next day, the Fellowship of the Dig meets in the War Room with Corjan Mol, who presented his own Oak Island theory the previous episode, and his fellow researcher, Chris Morford. Mol and Morford show the treasure hunters a 1650 self-portrait of classical French Baroque painter Nicolas Poussin and point out an illustration of a painting in its background. This painting depicts a lady wearing a hat in which is set the image of a human eye. Mol and Morford propose that this lady is the shepherdess who features in Poussin’s 1637 rendition of Et in Arcadia Ego.
In the previous episode, Mol demonstrated that Poussins 1637 painting Et in Arcadia Ego appears to have been modeled on a portion of a pentagram, and showed the treasure hunters a map of Nolan’s Cross on which the painting and its pentagram were overlaid. In this episode, he demonstrates that the centre of the pentagram on which Et in Arcadia Ego was modeled appears to be the forehead of the shepherdess- the same place over which the third eye appears on the hat of the lady in Poussin’s self-portrait. Furthermore, Mol and Morford demonstrate that the centre of Et in Arcadia Ego, when the painting is superimposed overtop of Nolan’s Cross, appears to lie just southwest of the so-called ‘Eye of the Swamp’- a pond located at the tip of the Oak Island swamp around which geoscientist Dr. Ian Spooner discovered a ring of flat stones in Season 7, Episode 3. The treasure hunters express some surprise at this connection between the eye on the lady’s hat in Poussin’s self-portrait and the name which Marty Lagina dubbed the pond. The narrator then attempts to connect Poussin’s painting and the pond to the “All-Seeing Eye”, a symbol of Freemasonry and the United States mentioned back in Season 4, Episode 2, when Tony Sampson discovered a rock in a water will in the town of New Ross, Nova Scotia, bearing what he suggested might be a representation of the symbol. The treasure hunters, along with a skeptical Marty Lagina, thank the researchers for their time and agree to investigate the point of interest which they have prescribed.
The next day, Steve Guptill meets with geoscientist Dr. Ian Spooner and three of his student assistants from Acadia University (namely Lauren Ruff, Chelsea Renaud, and Julia Crews) at the Oak Island swamp. Guptill and his students head out to the Eye of the Swamp in a dingy and collect several core samples of the swamp floor using a vibracore drill.
Meanwhile, Rick Lagina, Peter Fornetti, Gary Drayton, and Billy Gerhardt continue the excavation of the bump-out area at Smith’s Cove. Not far from the cofferdam wall, the treasure hunters unearth a massive wooden structure consisting of large parallel and perpendicularly-aligned logs attached by saddle-notches, along with a handful of wooden pegs. Drayton remarks that the only other place they have found wooden pegs on the island was in the U-shaped structure, and suggests that this new structure they unearthed may be connected to it in some way.
Rick Lagina notes that the structure appears to be surrounded by packed clay, prompting the narrator to remind us that puddled clay was said to have been found on one or more of the nine oak log platforms unearthed at regular 10-foot intervals in the Money Pit. The treasure hunters reluctantly agree to postpone their excavation of the structure and wait for an assessment by archaeologist Laird Niven.
The next day, the Fellowship of the Dig meets in the War Room with Tom Nolan and Dr. Ian Spooner. Spooner, who has analyzed the samples that he and his students extracted from the Eye of the Swamp, shows the treasure hunters a diagram of one of the samples and informs them that lower end of the sample contains what appears to be disturbed earth. “How do I know it’s disturbed?” Spooner asks. “It’s because we’ve got interlayered organic matter and till. You just can’t get that [naturally].” The geoscientist goes on to explain how he carbon dated a sample of wood found overtop of the disturbed earth from 1600 to 1700.
“So what you’re saying,” clarifies Marty Lagina, “is in 16-something, somebody dug a hole there.”
“Right,” Spooner confirms.
Spooner then shows the treasure hunters a twig he extracted from another core sample, which he carbon dated from 1674-1778. This data, coupled with the carbon dating of the wood from the previous core sample, led him to deduce that the aforementioned swamp excavation must have taken place between 1674 and 1700- a date range which corresponds with many Oak Island discoveries made over the years, particularly those made throughout Season 5.
When prompted by Rick Lagina, Tom Nolan discloses that his father, Fred Nolan, had a particular interest in the Eye of the Swamp due to the fact that, no matter how much water he pumped from it, it always remained wet.
Before concluding his presentation, Dr. Spooner informs the team that the carbon dating of another twig located near the bottom of one of his core samples appeared to indicate that the swamp first formed around 1220 A.D. Marty Lagina remarks that this theory corresponds with the popular notion that the medieval Knights Templar are behind the Oak Island mystery.
Finally, Rick Lagina shows Dr. Spooner Zena Halpern’s mysterious map of Oak Island, first introduced back on the Season 4 premiere, and its reference to a Templar voyage to the island in 1179 A.D. The geoscientist says that he would “like to look at [the map] more closely to just see how it matches up with what [he and the crew] think might have existed at that time.”
In this episode, the Fellowship of the Dig discovered an enormous wooden structure within the bump-out area of the Smith’s Cove cofferdam containing large logs and wooden pegs- the same materials of which the U-shaped structure is comprised. Doug Crowell and Laird Niven opined that the structure bears some resemblance to a wharf or pier.
Dr. Spooner’s Second Analysis of the Swamp
In this episode, geoscientist Dr. Ian Spooner of Acadia University, along with three student assistants, collected core samples of the Eye of the Swamp- the pond located at the Oak Island swamp’s northern tip. In a War Room meeting at the end of the episode, Dr. Spooner informed the Oak Island crew that the samples contain evidence that the swamp first formed around 1220 A.D., and that the floor of the Eye of the Swamp was disturbed by man sometime between 1674 and 1700- the latter being a date range which corresponds with many Oak Island discoveries made over the years, and the former corresponding with the popular theory that the Knights Templar are behind the Oak Island mystery.
As Spooner acknowledged in this episode, his analysis of the Eye of the Swamp core samples differs from a previous assessment he made back in Season 7, Episode 3, when he extracted core samples from the ‘Ship Anomaly’ in the Oak Island swamp. In the earlier episode, Spooner concluded that the swamp was only three or four hundred years old, and supported trees and other forms of terrestrial vegetation prior to its transformation into a wetland.
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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 9: An Eye for an Eye was last modified: January 20th, 2020 by Hammerson Peters
The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 8: Triptych
The following is a plot summary and analysis of Season 7, Episode 8 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.
The episode begins at Smith’s Cove, where the mysterious tarpapered wooden wall and possible remains of the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel were discovered at the end of the previous episode. Various members of Oak Island Tours Inc. puzzle over the structure, which Rick Lagina eventually suggests might be the work of Robert and Bobby Restall, as it bears some resemblance to other structures the Restalls are known to have built. “The only problem I have for this to be Restall work,” Rick says, “is [that the structure would have been] underwater [during the days of the Restall treasure hunt]. Now how would they have gotten here?”
Geologist Terry Matheson examines the wooden wall and opines that the cobble-like rocks that lie beside it, which some treasure hunters had suggested might be the remains of the flood tunnel, were stacked by man. Steve Guptill then tells Matheson that the northern end of this structure lies right next to the southern end of the slipway discovered back in Season 6, Episode 11. Matheson proceeds to examine the rocks with a hand shovel and finds a piece of wood embedded in it, which he identifies as a timber. This find seems to verify that the rock structure is indeed manmade.
That night, the Fellowship of the Dig meets in the War Room, where they speculate as to the nature of the mysterious structure recently discovered at Smith’s Cove. Marty Lagina, who attends the meeting via Skype, encourages his fellow treasures to dig up the structure and “get to the bottom” of it.
The next day, several members of the Oak Island team continue to excavate the structure at Smith’s Cove. Billy Gerhardt removes a quantity of earth beside the supposed cobble, and Gary Drayton scans the fresh trench with his metal detector. Drayton quickly comes across a tapered wrought iron spike which bears great resemblance to one of the objects he discovered at Isaac’s Point in the Season 7 premiere, which blacksmithing expert Carmen Legge identified as a hand point chisel. The object also bears some resemblance to the crib spike discovered on Lot 26 back in Season 6, Episode 3, as well as the crib spikes discovered near the Smith’s Cove slipway back in Season 6, Episode 16. The narrator then suggests that the artifact’s discovery might constitute evidence that the recently-discovered wooden wall was constructed sometime in the 17th or 18th Centuries (the presumed age of the various crib spikes), apparently forgetting that the wall was found covered with 19th or 20th Century tar paper.
That night, the crew meets in the War Room with Oak Island theorist Corjan Mol. Mol presents his theory that classical French Baroque painter Nicolas Poussin included secret clues as to the location of the Oak Island treasure in two of his paintings, both of them entitled Et in Arcadia ego (also known as The Shepherds of Arcadia) and inspired by Italian Baroque painter il Guercino’s earlier work of the same name. Poussin’s first rendition of The Shepherds of Arcadia, painted in 1627, depicts two shepherds, a reclining man, and a shepherdess in a pastoral setting discovering an overgrown tomb and reading the inscription carved into its side: “ET IN ARCADIA EGO”. Mol suggests that the tomb’s inscription might be an anagram for “GITE NEO ARCADIA”, which, in Italian, means, “Excursion to New Arcadia”.
The narrator then explains that Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazano explored North America’s Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Nova Scotia on behalf of King Francis I of France from 1523-24. During the voyage, Verrazano named the beautiful forested coastline north of Virginia “Arcadia” after a legendary pastoral paradise of Ancient Greek mythology. During this exposition, the show displays an old map bearing the title “Carte de l’Accadie”, or “Map of Acadia” in French. Although there appears to be some implication that the map was drawn by Verrazano, the map displayed on the show was actually drawn by French geographer Jacques-Nicolas Bellin in 1757.
The narrator then explains that the name “Arcadia” gradually moved northeast until, in the early 1600s, it denoted a province of New France which covered an area that now comprises Canada’s Maritime Provinces and much of the state of Maine. 17th Century French explorer Samuel de Champlain decided to omit the ‘r’ from “Arcadia” and call the region “Acadie”, perhaps in an effort to make the word more congruent with native names for extant villages like Shubenacadie (Nova Scotia).
Back in the War Room, Corjan Mol shows the treasure hunters another painting by Nicolas Poussin entitled Midas Washing at the Source of the Pactolus (1627). This painting, Mol informs the treasure hunters, was made just after The Shepherds of Arcadia, and was intended to form a pendant painting with it (i.e. both paintings were meant to hang beside one another). The painting depicts a scene in the Classical Greek legend of King Midas of Phrygia. According to the legend, a satyr (a woodland deity) granted Midas’ wish for the ability to turn everything he touched into gold. Unable to eat or drink as a result of his new ability, Midas prayed to the Greek god Dionysus (called “Bacchus” by the Romans) to reverse the satyr’s work. A sympathetic Dionysus ordered Midas to bathe in the Pactolus River. In doing so, the Phrygian king cleansed himself of his affliction, depositing gold dust into the riverbed in the process. Mol puts forth the theory that Poussin’s painting, which depicts Midas bathing in the Pactolus River, is a reference to Nova Scotia’s Gold River- a gold-bearing waterway which empties into Mahone Bay just northwest of Oak Island.
Corjan Mol further argues that Nicolas Poussin’s second rendition of The Shepherds of Arcadia, painted in 1637/38, was modeled on a portion of a pentagram. He goes on to suggest that the painting and the pentagram on which it is modeled, when superimposed over top of Nolan’s Cross, forms a treasure map indicating an area of interest near the tip of the Oak Island swamp. Mol finishes his presentation by suggesting that the Knights Templar buried the Ark of the Covenant on Oak Island, and that Nicolas Poussin somehow became privy to their secret.
The next day, Rick Lagina, Steve Guptill, and Tony Sampson meet with GPR experts Don Johnston and Steve Watson at the Oak Island swamp. Using a dingy and a rope laid along gridlines which Guptill prescribed, the crew conducts a floating GPR scan of the swamp. During the process, Johnston and Watson detect a 6-metre-wide anomaly located three metres below the surface.
Later, Jack Begley and Gary Drayton continue to excavate the mysterious wooden structure at Smith’s Cove by hand. Further excavation carried out off-camera has exposed four more log walls which appear to form two square shafts or boxes sitting side by side. The two men are later joined by other members of the team who assist in the excavation. At about three feet below the lip of one of the boxes, Doug Crowell discovers a platform of wooden beams. Despite this interesting development, Rick Lagina suggests that they stop excavating the boxes for the time being and explore more of the surrounding area first. In a later interview, Rick voices his fear that a rigorous investigation of the box-like structure may necessitate their digging a wider hole which might prevent them from accessing other areas of the bump-out with heavy equipment.
The following day, Jack Begley, Dave Blankenship, Doug Crowell, Terry Matheson, and Scott Barlow meet at the Money Pit area, where Choice Drilling is busy drilling an exploratory drillhole in search of another of the four walls of the 114-foot-deep Shaft 2 (one of Shaft 2’s four walls may have been discovered at the end of the previous episode). The treasure hunters examine a core sample taken from a depth of 19-29 feet below the surface. To their delight, the sample contains a large piece of timber from 24-29 feet which appears to be a piece of a corner of Shaft 2. The narrator informs us that the team will need to intersect one more wall of the shaft in order to definitively determine the orientation of Shaft 2.
The Choice Drilling crew proceeds to sink another hole at one of the suspected locations of a Shaft 2 wall. A core sample taken from an undisclosed depth (later revealed to be 98.5-103.5 feet) in this hole contains a significant quantity of wood. “We’ve got three points now that can’t be just one wall,” says Doug Crowell of the discovery. “So we’ve got two walls.” The crew then agrees to sink another hole in the hope of intersecting the 14-foot-long tunnel which once connected Shaft 2 with the original Money Pit, and to submit the recently-discovered wood samples for dendrochronological dating.
One week later, the crew meets in the War Room to hear the results of the aforementioned dendrochronological test. Craig Tester, who is in attendance via Skype, reveals that dendrochronologist Dr. Colin Laroque (who dated the wood from several Smith’s Cove structures back in Season 6, Episode 21) dated the 98.5-103.5-foot-deep wood from the suspected Shaft 2 wall to 1796. Tester reminds the crew that Shaft 2 is believed to have been constructed in 1805, and remarks that the Laroque’s dating fits perfectly with this. The narrator then remarks that, since it appears the crew has determined the location and orientation of Shaft 2, they finally know the precise location of the original Money Pit.
GPR Scan of the Oak Island Swamp
In this episode, GPR experts Steve Watson and Don Johnston conducted a floating GPR scan of the Oak Island swamp using a dingy and ropes laid along gridlines prescribed by Steve Guptill.
This is not the first time a Ground Penetrating Radar scan has been conducted in the Oak Island swamp. Back in Season 2, Episode 8, Pat Campbell and Matt Savelle of Canadian Seabed Research Ltd. scanned the swamp’s southeast corner, the Mercy Point, and the so-called Enochean Chamber area on the swamp’s western edge with a GPR device. Although the scans indicated the presence of several underground anomalies, further investigation yielded little of interest.
Origin of the Name “Acadia”
In this episode, theorist Corjan Mol attempted to draw a connection between the word “Arcadia”, which is inscribed on tomb in Nicolas Poussin’s paintings The Shepherds of Arcadia, and Acadia, an old New French province made up of what is now Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I., and much of the state of Maine.
In Classical Greek mythology, Arcadia is a pastoral paradise situated in the sparsely-populated mountainous interior of the Peloponnesian Peninsula. Named after Arcas, a legendary Greek demigod and hunter, the Arcadia of Greek mythology was said to be home to shepherds and nymphs who lived in harmony with nature, ruled over by the god Pan.
As was mentioned in this episode, Italian explorer Giovanni de Verrazano, during his 1523-24 voyage to North America on behalf of Francis I of France, applied the name “Arcadia” to the beautiful wooded Atlantic coast north of Virginia. According to Canadian bibliographer William F.E. Morley in his 1979 article on Verrazano for the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, the word Arcadia made its first cartographical appearance on Italian cartographer Giacomo Gastaldi’s 1548 map of North America’s Atlantic Coast.
King Henry IV of France- who would become a great supporter and sponsor of Samuel de Champlain, the so-called Father of Acadia- referred to the Canadian Maritimes as “La Cadie” in a 1603 colonial license for French explorer Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons. Many historians believe that “La Cadie” has its origins in a native word picked up by French explorers, citing similar native place names like “Shubenacadie” and “Tracadie” as evidence. Samuel de Champlain apparently married Verrazano’s “Arcadia” with King Henry’s “La Cadie” by naming the Canadian Maritimes “L’Accadie”, or “Acadia”, in his writings and maps.
Corjan Mol’s Theory
In this episode, researcher Corjan Mol presented his own Oak Island theory involving classical French Baroque painter Nicolas Poussin and his two renditions of The Shepherds of Arcadia. Specifically, Mol believes that the words “Et in Arcadia ego”, which form the inscription on the tombs in Poussin’s paintings, constitute an anagram for “Gite Neo Arcadia”- an Italian phrase which translates to “Excursion to New Arcadia”. Mol contends that these words are intended to draw attention to a particular voyage to the Canadian Maritimes, or “New Arcadia”- perhaps the voyage which led to the interment of the Oak Island treasure.
Mol then showed the Oak Island crew another of Poussin’s paintings entitled Midas Washing at the Source of the Pactolus. Mol informed the treasure hunters that Poussin created this painting in 1627, the same year in which he painted his first rendition of The Shepherds of Arcadia, and claimed that it was meant to hang alongside it. This claim is supported by the posthumous inventory of Cardinal Camillo Massimo, a 17th Century Roman Church official and a major patron of the arts who owned both paintings, which referred to the items as “due quadri compagni”, or “two fellow paintings”.
The painting Midas Washing at the Source of the Pactolus depicts a scene from Classical Greek mythology and the Roman poet Ovid’s masterwork Metamorphoses. Specifically, the scene depicts the climax of the legend of King Midas of Phrygia, whom a woodland deity had granted the ability to turn everything he touched into gold. Unable to eat or drink as a result of his new ability, Midas prayed to the Greek god Dionysus (called “Bacchus” by the Romans) and asked him to reverse the curse. The sympathetic deity ordered Midas to wash in the Pactolus River. In doing so, the king both cleansed himself of his affliction and deposited alluvial gold into the river. Mol argued that Poussin’s painting of this scene was intended as a reference to Nova Scotia’s Gold River- a gold-bearing waterway which empties into Mahone Bay just northwest of Oak Island.
Mol finished his presentation by putting forth the theory that Poussin’s second rendition of The Shepherds of Arcadia, painted in 1636/37, is modeled around the shape of a pentagram. Mol appears to have borrowed this part of his theory from British screenwriter Henry Lincoln, co-author of the infamous 1982 book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, which I will explain in greater detail below. Mol further contended that this pentagram on which Poussin’s painting was modeled, when superimposed over Nolan’s Cross, forms a treasure map indicating an area of interest near the apex of the Oak Island swamp. He concluded by suggesting that the Knights Templar buried the Ark of the Covenant on Oak Island, and that Nicolas Poussin somehow became privy to their secret and alluded to it in his work.
The Mystery of Nicolas Poussin
Corjan Mol is not the first researcher to include Nicolas Poussin in his Oak Island theory. In fact, the French painter appears so frequently in various Oak Island theories, as well as in hypotheses regarding other potentially-related mysteries, that a brief biography of the artist and an explanation of his place in some of the more popular of these theses may prove interesting to some readers.
Nicolas Poussin was born in Normandy, France, in 1594. Early on, Poussin displayed a natural aptitude for and interest in drawing. Contrary to his parents’ wishes, he moved to Paris at the age of eighteen, where he pursued a career as an artist. Poussin apprenticed with a variety of established Parisian painters and, in his early twenties, began receiving his own commissions from churches and convents.
In 1622, the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuit Order, hired Poussin to create six watercolor paintings depicting the miracles of Saint Ignatius of Loyala and Saint Francis Xavier, the Order’s founders, both of whom had just been canonized by the Catholic Church. These paintings were seen and admired by Giambattista Marino, a Napolitano poet. At that time, Marino served as court poet to Marie de’ Medici, the mother of the reigning King Louis XIII. In the context of Oak Island, it might be worth noting that, although Marie de’ Medici appeared to have little interest in the exploration of the Americas, her late husband, King Henry IV of France, had used the money she had inherited from her wealthy Florentine family to finance the voyages of explorer Samuel de Champlain, the so-called “Father of Acadia”.
Impressed by Poussin’s paintings, Marino commissioned the young French artist with making fifteen drawings, eleven of them depicting scenes from the Roman poet Ovid’s masterwork Metamorphoses and four of them depicting historic Roman battles. It seems likely that Poussin, who had received little formal education in his youth, first learned the story of King Midas during this period, as this legend features in Book XI of Metamorphoses (recall that the story of Midas is the subject of Poussin’s Midas Washing at the Source of the Pactolus (1627), which formed a pendant painting with his first rendition of The Shepherds of Arcadia).
In 1623, Marino moved to Rome and invited Poussin to join him there. Poussin agreed to do so upon his completion of several major commissions for the residence of Marie de’ Medici and the family chapel of Archbishop of Paris in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame.
In 1624, Nicolas Poussin relocated to Rome, where he would spend most of his professional life. For nearly four decades, the French artist painted hundreds of pieces for Roman cardinals and Italian aristocrats in his own unique classical French Baroque style. In 1627, he painted his first rendition of Et in Arcadia Ego, which appears to be based on another painting of the same name by Italian Baroque artist Giovanni Barbiere, more popularly known as il Guercino.
Il Guercino’s Et in Arcadia ego, painted between 1618 and 1622, depicts two shepherds in a rural setting staring at a skull resting on a cippus, a Roman milestone sometimes used as a funeral memorial. The bricks of the cippus are inscribed with the words “Et in Arcadia Ego”, or “Even in Arcadia I”. As mentioned earlier, Arcadia is the name for the mountainous interior of the Peloponnesian Peninsula, which Classical Greek mythology contends was a paradise populated by shepherds and nymphs. The ambiguous Latin phrase inscribed on il Guercino’s cippus appears to serve as a momento mori– a sobering reminder of our own mortality- asserting that Death is everywhere, even in the paradise of Arcadia.
Nicolas Poussin’s 1627 rendition of Et in Arcadia Ego depicts two shepherds and a provocatively-dressed shepherdess examining an overgrown tomb in the wilderness. Like il Guercino’s cippus, Poussin’s tomb is inscribed with the phrase “Et in Arcadia Ego”. In the foreground of the painting is a reclining man wearing a laurel wreath on his head, whom some art historians have interpreted as Alpheus, a river god of Greek mythology who happens to feature in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It is interesting to note that this figure bears great resemblance to Dionysus in Pouissin’s 1627 painting Midas Washing at the Source of the Pactolus, which was meant to serve as a companion to Et in Arcadia Ego.
Nearly ten years later, from 1637-38, Poussin painted a second rendition of Et in Arcadia Ego for Cardinal Giulio Rospigliosi, an Italian Church leader who would go on to become Pope Clement IX. This painting differs from Poussin’s earlier version in several ways, including the more dignified dress and bearing of the shepherdess and the letter of the inscription at which one of the shepherds is pointing; in the 1627 painting, a shepherd points to the letter ‘D’, while in the later painting, a shepherd points to the letter ‘R’.
Nicolas Poussin’s forty year residency in Rome was punctuated by an illustrious two-year stint in Paris; in late 1640, the French painter returned to his home country to serve as First Painter to King Louis XIII. For two years, Pouissin created paintings for French churches, religious organizations, and the famous “Red Eminence”, Cardinal Richelieu.
Poussin returned to Rome in December 1642, where he spent the rest of his life painting for a number of patrons he had acquired back in France. He passed away in Rome on November 19, 1665, and was buried in Rome’s Basilica of San Lorenzo in Lucina.
For centuries, an aura of mystery and intrigue has surrounded Nicolas Poussin and his work. This sentiment is epitomized in a cryptic inscription on the artist’s tomb, which lies below a sculpted relief depicting Poussin’s second version of Et in Arcadia Ego, crafted in 1832. When translated from Latin to English, the inscription reads:
“Spare your pious tears. Poussin lives in this urn. He had given his life without knowing how to die. In this place Poussin is silent, but if you would like to hear him speak, it is surprising- he lives and speaks through his paintings.”
The notion that the great French artist may have been privy to some important secret first appeared in April 17th, 1656, in a letter written by Abbe Louis Fouquet (the future bishop of a region in southern France called Agde) to his elder brother, Nicolas Fouquet, the Superintendent of Finances at the court of the French King Louis XIV. Louis was one of Poussin’s patrons and lived in Rome at the time. To his elder brother in Paris, he wrote, in French:
“I have delivered to M. Poussin the letter which you have done him the honour of writing to him; he has read it with all imaginable joy. You would not believe, Monsieur, either the pains he takes for your service, the affection with which he takes them, or the merit and probity he brings in all things.
“He and I have planned certain things, of which I shall be able to talk to you in depth, which will give you by M. Poussin advantages (if you do not wish to despise them) that Kings would have great difficulty in drawing from him, and that after him perhaps no one in the world will ever recover in the centuries to come; and, what is more, this could be done without much expense and could even turn to profit, and these are things so hard to discover that no one, no matter who, upon this earth today could have better fortune or perhaps equal…”
This cryptic letter is doubly intriguing in light of certain events which succeeded it. In the early autumn of 1661, Nicolas Fouquet was arrested by the Captain of the King’s Musketeers and charged with embezzlement. After an unfair trial which lasted nearly three years, Fouquet was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for life. The former finance minister spent the rest of his days locked away in the Fortress of Pignerol (located in what is now the town of Pinerolo, Italy). As he was a man of high birth, Fouquet was assigned a valet, or manservant, during his incarceration. Interestingly, whenever Fouquet’s regular valet was indisposed, he was substituted by the so-called “Man in the Iron Mask”, a mysterious unidentified prisoner who was otherwise held in solitary confinement and forced at all times to wear a mask of either iron or velvet.
Five years after Nicolas Fouquet’s death in 1680, King Louis XIV purchased a number of Nicolas Poussin’s paintings, including his second rendition of the Shepherds of Arcadia, and added it to the French Royal Collection. Ten years later, the Shepherds of Arcadia was displayed in the Palace of Versailles, where it remained until its relocation to the Louvre Museum in 1806. Strangely, the painting is said to have disappeared sometime between its introduction to Versailles and relocation to Paris; it curiously failed to appear in a 1750 exhibition of the Royal French Collection in Luxembourg.
Around that same time, in the mid-18th Century, a wealthy British MP named Thomas Anson- the elder brother of Admiral George Anson of the Royal British Navy who circumnavigated the globe in the 1740s; who features in Gary Clayton’s Oak Island theory, which was presented back in Season 4, Episode 13- decorated the yard of Shugborough Hall, his family’s ancestral home in Staffordshire, England, with eight custom-made megalithic monuments. Among the strangest of these is the so-called Shepherd’s Monument- a rustic arch in which is set a mirror-image relief copy of Poussin’s second rendition of The Shepherds of Arcadia, crafted by Flemish sculptor Peter Scheemakers. The Monument also contains the carved bald head of a smiling man, a carved head with goat-like horns resembling the god Pan of Greek mythology (the ruler of Arcadia), and eight Roman letters flanked by a ‘D’ to the lower left and an ‘M’ to the lower right. The sequence of letters on the Shepherd’s Monument, also known as the Shugborough Inscription, appears to form some sort of code. Although many cryptographers have put forth a variety of possible solutions to the code, none of these has been universally accepted.
Some researchers believe that the Shugborough Monument is related in some way to the Oak Island mystery. Many of them point to the fact that one of the shepherds in the Monument’s sculpture has his index finger placed on the letter ‘R’ of ‘ET IN ARCADIA EGO’, almost as if to cover it up. Removing the ‘R’ from ‘Arcadia’ makes ‘Acadia’, the name old French province in the Canadian Maritimes in which Oak Island is located. When this tantalizing possibility is considered in the context of the rest of the scene, the sculpture appears to imply that something important is entombed in Acadia, or Nova Scotia.
One proponent of theory that the Shugborough Monument is connected in some way to the Oak Island mystery is Swedish art director Peter Oberg. Oberg believes that the letters on the Shugborough Inscription stand for numbers which, when added up, equal 2,810- the distance in miles from the Shepherd’s Monument to Oak Island’s Money Pit. He arrives at these numbers by calculating the diameter of circles drawn on the monument’s engraving, and by interpreting some letters as Roman numerals.
Another Scandinavian who believes in a connection between the Shugborough Inscription and the Oak Island mystery is Norwegian organist and cryptographer Petter Amundsen, who presented his own Oak Island theory back in Season 1, Episode 4. Amundsen believes that the inscription forms a three-level cipher. On the first level, the letters form some sort of anagram which, when some letters are switched to their Greek forms, appears to suggest the name ‘Thomas Anson’, the man who commissioned the Shepherd’s Monument. The second cipher level- decoded using a key in a poem, Greek mythology, and astronomy- allegedly creates a celestial map which leads to Oak Island. The third alleged cipher level- first discovered by another Norwegian named Oystein Bruno Larson- involves turning the inscription letters into geographic co-ordinates which lead to a location 1.5 nautical miles from Oak Island. Amundsen presented his theory in the book he co-wrote with Norwegian novelist Erlend Loe, entitled Organisten, or The Organist.
When one considers the mystique that Nicolas Poussin and his paintings have garnered over the years as a result of the Shugborough Monument and the cryptic inscription that adorns his tomb, it is easy to understand how the French painter and his famous second rendition of The Shepherds of Arcadia found their way into the heart of a clever, sinister 20th Century hoax upon which an entire genre of misguided Oak Island theories are based. The story of this hoax begins in 1969, when British screenwriter Henry Lincoln picked up a copy of the recently-published book Le Tresor Maudit de Rennes-le-Chateau, or “The Accursed Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau”, by French author Gerard de Sede. The book puts a twist on a little local legend endemic to a sleepy town on southern France called Rennes-le-Chateau.
The original legend on which de Sede based his book was first proliferated in the mid-1950s by a local restaurateur named Noel Corbu, and dealt with a former local character named Father Berenger Sauniere. Sauniere was a Roman Catholic priest who was appointed to Rennes-le-Chateau’s Church of Saint Mary Magdalene in 1885. In the late 1800s, Sauniere renovated his dilapidated parish and built a castle-like library and villa for himself, paying for the costly projects with mysteriously-acquired money. The Catholic Church conducted an investigation into Sauniere’s mysterious wealth and eventually charged him with simony- the fraudulent sale of religious favours. Specifically, the Church accused the priest of pressuring people into making donations he did not need and accepting payments for hundreds of Masses he never intended to say (in the Catholic Church, it is common for parishioners to ask a priest to offer a Mass for a specific intention, like the repose of a recently deceased relative). According to Noel Corbu, however, the source of Sauniere’s wealth was not simony, but rather the lost treasure of the 13th Century French Queen Blanche de Castile, who raised ransom money for her son, Prince (and later Saint) Louis IX, after his capture by Egyptian Saracens in the Seventh Crusade at the Battle of Al Mansurah. Sauniere located this treasure by following clues laid out in parchments he discovered in a particular pillar in his church during the renovations he financed in the late 1800s.
The French author Gerard de Sede put a different spin on the legend of Berenger Sauniere. In his book, he wrote that the priest, during his renovation of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene, discovered four parchments in a pillar which supported the altar. De Sede included what purported to be photocopies of these parchments in his book. Two of the parchments contained genealogies which stretched back to the days of the Frankish Merovingian dynasty. The other two contained passages from the Gospels written in Latin. According to de Sede, Sauniere suspected that the parchments contained coded messages within their texts, and took them to Paris to have them deciphered. During his Parisian excursion, the French priest visited the Louve Museum, where he purchased prints of three paintings, one of them Nicolas Poussin’s The Shepherds of Arcadia. Upon his return to Rennes-le-Chateau, Sauniere began spending an extraordinary amount of money on various building projects, having become inexplicably and spontaneously wealthy. De Sede implies in his book that Sauniere, aided by the codes in the parchments, must have discovered some sort of treasure in Rennes-le-Chateau.
During this time, locals observed that Sauniere spent many a night in the church cemetery engaged in some strange and mysterious business, moving tombstones and effacing epitaphs. One of the graves which the priest defaced was that of Marie de Blanchefort, a local aristocrat who died in 1781. Fortunately, the markings on de Blanchefort’s grave had already been recorded in a booklet entitled Les Pierres Gravees du Languedoc, or “The Engraved Stones in Languedoc”, written by a man named Eugene Stublein in 1884. De Sede included photocopies of Stublein’s interpretations of these markings- which included those inscribed on de Blanchefort’s headstone as well as words carved into a rectangular stone set perpendicular to it- in his book.
In 1969, while vacationing in the Pyrenees, an English screenwriter named Henry Lincoln purchased a copy of de Sede’s book. While examining a photocopy of one of the parchments Sauniere is said to have discovered hidden in a pillar in his church, he noticed that some of the Latin letters dipped below the others. To his astonishment, Lincoln found that these anomalous letters, when put together, formed a message in French. When translated to English, the message reads: “To Dagobert II, King, and to Sion belongs this treasure and he is there dead.”
Fascinated, Lincoln believed that de Sede’s story of Sauniere and the mysterious treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau would make for an excellent BBC documentary. He said as much to a certain BBC producer, who agreed with him and sent him to Paris to interview Gerard de Sede. Ever since he deciphered the code in the parchment, Lincoln had suspected that the French author had discovered the secret message as well, and was curious as to why he failed to include the decipherment in his book. He said as much to de Sede in his interview, to which the author replied, “Because we thought it might interest someone like you to find it for yourself”. De Sede’s use of the word “we” troubled Lincoln, as it implied the presence of some shadowy association behind the mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau.
As the BBC prepared their documentary on the tale of Berenger Sauniere, Henry Lincoln received a letter from Gerard de Sede in which the French author disclosed the solution to the code in another of the parchments discovered in the Church of Mary Magdalene. When translated from French to English, the coded message reads:
“SHEPHERDESS NO TEMPTATION THAT
POUSSIN TENIERS HOLD THE KEY
PEACE 681 BY THE CROSS AND THIS
HORSE OF GOD I COMPLETE THIS
DAEMON GUARDIAN AT MIDDAY
The words “Shepherdess” and “Poussin” reminded Lincoln that, in de Sede’s book, Sauniere is said to have purchased a print of Nicolas’ Poussin’s 1637 painting The Shepherds of Arcadia. With this in mind, Lincoln looked at the various photocopies in de Sede’s book and made an extraordinary discovery. One of the inscriptions on the tomb of Marie de Blanchefort is flanked by columns of letters, some from the Latin alphabet and others from the Greek alphabet. When the letters from the Greek alphabet are exchanged for their Latin counterparts, a Latin phrase emerges: “Et in Arcadia Ego”- another clear connection between Nicolas Poussin and the mystery of Rennes le Chateau.
Around this time, Lincoln received another letter from Gerard de Sede. In the letter, the French author claimed that he and his shadowy associates, to which he alluded earlier, had discovered a tomb near Rennes-le-Chateau which bore remarkable resemblance to that depicted in Poussin’s painting. Using the directions that de Sede provided, Lincoln found this tomb on the side of the road between the villages of Serre and Arques, just a few miles from Rennes-le-Chateau. Indeed the tomb and its setting was nearly identical to that in Poussin’s The Shepherds of Arcadia, down to the foliage in the background and a rock which rests at the base of the sarcophagus. Even more startling were the similarities between the surrounding landscape and the backdrop of Et in Arcadia Ego. Lincoln quickly identified four mountaintops in Poussin’s painting which corresponded almost perfectly in both shape and placement with those surrounding this roadside sarcophagus. It seemed clear that Nicolas Poussin had painted this particular tomb and its surroundings in The Shepherds of Arcadia, either having visited the location or worked off of detailed sketches.
Henry Lincoln spent the next seven years attempting to solve the mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau, assisted on occasion by tips he received from the author de Sede and his mysterious associates. Lincoln produced three films for the BBC which documented his progress: The Lost Treasure of Jerusalem, produced in 1971; The Priest, the Painter, and the Devil, produced in 1972; and The Shadow of the Templars, produced in 1979. In his second film, he consulted Professor Christopher Cornford of London’s Royal College of Art. Cornford analyzed The Shepherds of Arcadia and determined that it appeared to be modeled around a portion of a pentagram. The professor attempted to explain the presence of this pentagram by suggesting that its inclusion implied Poussin’s attempt to connect his painting with the occult, or with the Cult of Pythagoras- an ancient Greco-Italian religion which revolved around geometry, mathematics, and Classical Greek mythology. Corjan Mol, who presented his own theory in this episode of The Curse of Oak Island, appears to have borrowed this part of Lincoln’s work.
Following the publication of The Shadow of the Templars in 1971, Henry Lincoln teamed up with New Zealander Michael Baigent and New Jerseyite Richard Leigh- researchers who shared his interest in the Knights Templar. Together, the three men began to research the mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau. Shortly after the formation of this alliance, Lincoln was contacted again by Gerard de Sede, who directed him to a particular document in the Bibliotheque Nationale, the national library of France. This document, called the Dossiers Secret d’Henri Lobineau, or the “Secret Files of Henri Lobineau”, contained, among other things, diagrams depicting the genealogy of the Merovingian dynasty and references to an ancient secret society called the Priory of Sion. The Priory of Sion, the document contented, was formed in the year 1099 by descendants of the Merovingian dynasty. Following the First Crusade, it formed the Knights Templar as its military arm and financial branch. Over the years, it has been led by men of status and acclaim, including Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Isaac Newton, and Victor Hugo. Its motto is “Et in Arcadia ego”, and its stated mission is the reinstallation of a Merovingian king on the throne of France. De Sede later confessed to Henry Lincoln that he was a member of the Priory of Sion, and that the organization’s current Grandmaster was a Frenchman named Pierre Plantard, who was the heir to the Merovingian dynasty.
Using the Dossiers Secret as one of their major sources, Lincoln, Baigent, and Leigh wrote a book entitled The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, which was published in 1982. The book revolves around an offensive thesis which I will not dignify here with an exposition. One of the many propositions put forth in the book is that the phrase “Et in Arcadia Ego” could be considered an anagram for “I! Tego Arcana Dei”- Latin for “Begone! I Conceal the Secrets of God”. This proposal appears to have inspired Corjan Mol’s own interpretation of “Et in Arcadia Ego” as an anagram for “Gite Neo Arcadia”, or “Excursion to New Arcadia”.
Due to its controversial nature, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail was commercially successful, prompting its three authors to pen a sequel to it entitled the Messianic Legacy. In 2003, American writer Dan Brown wrote an enormously successful mystery thriller novel entitled The Da Vinci Code, which appears to be based on the thesis outlined in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. Three years later, Brown’s novel was adapted into a controversial Hollywood movie featuring actor Tom Hanks, bringing the mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau, in a roundabout way, to an international audience.
For decades, a number of researchers- foremost among them French journalist Jean-Luc Chaumeil- have chipped away at the story of Rennes-le-Chateau and the Priory of Sion. Beneath a façade of mystery and intrigue, they have uncovered evidence of an extraordinarily complex hoax concocted by three men: the writer Gerard de Sede; the Priory of Sion’s supposed Grandmaster, Pierre Plantard; and a French surrealist named Phillipe de Cherisey. Plantard, the mastermind of the plot, conceived the story of the Priory of Sion, a medieval secret society with roots in the Merovingian dynasty responsible for the formation of the Knights Templar, whose Grandmasters included the movers and shakers of European culture. A fifty-year-old tomb near Rennes-le-Chateau which bore remarkable resemblance to that depicted in Et in Arcadia Ego prompted him to give Nicolas Poussin and his famous painting places of prominence in the story. Phillipe de Cherisey then created ‘evidence’ for the organization’s existence by fabricating a number of historical documents, including the parchments which Sauniere purportedly discovered in his church; the 1884 booklet of Languedoc engravings by Eugene Stublein; and the all-important Dossier Secret, which Plantard submitted to the Bibliotheque Nationale in 1967. Gerard de Sede completed the hoax by writing his book The Accursed Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau, a colourful spin on a local legend, including photocopies of several of de Cherisey’s forged documents therein, and waiting for someone like Henry Lincoln to stumble upon it and take the bait.
Although the alleged connection between Nicolas Poussin and the Priory of Sion has been debunked, the unsolved Shugborough Inscription and cryptic inscription on Poussin’s tomb hint at the possibility that the French painter was privy to some sort of secret, clues to which he embedded in his paintings. Is it possible that this secret has something to do with the Oak Island mystery? Let me know your thoughts in the Comments section below.
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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 8: Triptych was last modified: January 21st, 2020 by Hammerson Peters
This narrative is founded on a popular superstition dating back to the days of the coureurs des bois , under the French regime, and perpetuated among the voyageurs in the Canadian Northwest. The shantymen of a later date have taken up the tradition, and it is in the French settlements, bordering the St. Lawrence River, that the legends of la chasse-galerie are specially well known at the present time. The writer has met many an old voyageur who affirmed most positively that he had seen bark canoes traveling in mid-air, full of men paddling and singing away, under the protection of Beelzebub, on their way from the timber camps of the Ottawa to pay a flying visit to their sweethearts at home.
It is hardly necessary to apologize for having used in the narrative expressions typical of the rude life and character of the men whose language and superstition it is the intention of the writer to portray.
“Well, then, since you seem to desire it so very much, I will tell you a roarin’ story that ought to be a lesson to all of you. If there is among the crowd any renegade who intends to run la chasse-galerie or the loup-garou, he had better skip and go outside to see whether the owls are screeching in the storm, in converse with Old Nick himself, because I intend to begin my story by making a big sign of the cross. That will be a regular set-back to le diable, who always tries, at this time, to snatch a poor shanty-man’s soul by promising him all kinds of nonsense. I have had enough of that in my young days to understand his tricks.”
Not a man moved. On the contrary, all gathered closer round the fireplace, where the cook had dragged the provision-chest, and upon which he had taken his seat on a camp-stool, preparatory to relating his experience under the wiles of the mauvais esprit .
It was on New Year’s eve of the year 1858, in the depth of the forest, in the Ross timber camp, at the head of the Gatineau River. The winter had fairly set in, and the snow outside had already piled up to the roof of the shanty. The boss, according to custom, had ordered the distribution of the contents of a small barrel of Jamaica rum among the men, and the cook had terminated early his preparations of a succulent ragout of pig’s feet and of a large tin full of glissantes for the New Year’s dinner. A big kettle, half full of molasses, was already simmering on the fire, as there was to be a candy-pull to finish the evening’s entertainment.
Every man had filled his pipe with good, strong Canadian tobacco, and a thick cloud of smoke darkened the interior of the shanty. A few pine-branches thrown at intervals on the fire produced a reddish glare that illuminated the rude faces of the men with curious effects of clair-obscur.
Joe, the cook, was a homely little man who laughed at his own physical defects, and who did not take offense when his comrades chaffed him on the subject, and called him le bossu, the hunchback. He had worked in the shanties for the last forty years, and his experience was only equaled by the facility with which he could relate his adventures when he had taken a glass of bonne vieille Jamaique.
“I was telling you,” said Joe, “that I was a pendard in my youth, but it is long since I mended my ways, and now I never joke about religious matters. I go to confession regularly every year, and what I am about to relate took place years and years ago, when I feared ni Dieu, ni diable. It was on a night like this, a New Year’s eve, thirty-four or thirty-five years ago. Gathered round the fireplace with all the camarades, we made merry; and if it is true, as we say in French, that ‘small rivulets make large rivers’, it is just as true that small drinks empty large barrels. And in those days, people drank more than to-day, and evenings of this kind generally ended in a boxing-match, outside, in the snow. The rhum was no better than it is to-night, but it was bougrement bon, I can assure you. I will be frank with you and tell you that about eleven o’clock my head began to feel dizzy, and I lay down on my buffalo-robe to take a nap, while waiting for the midnight jump that we always take over the head of a pork-barrel, from the old year into the new one. We will repeat the same thing to-night before we go to visit the neighboring camps to wish them the compliments of the season.
“I had slept for quite a while, when I was rudely awakened by a second boss, Baptiste Durand, who said to me: ‘Joe, it is past midnight, and you are late for the barrel-jump. The camarades have gone to the other camps, and I am going to Lavaltrie to see my sweetheart. Will you come with me?’
“ ‘To Lavaltrie,’ said I, ‘are you crazy? We are three hundred miles away from there, and you could not travel the distance in two months, through the forest, when there are no roads beaten in the snow. And what about our work the day after to-morrow?’
“ ‘Imbecile! Don’t you understand me? We will travel in our bark canoe, and to-morrow morning at six o’clock we will be back here for breakfast.’
“I understood. Baptiste Durand proposed that I should join him and run la chasse-galerie; risk the salvation of my soul for the fun of going to give a New Year’s kiss to my blonde at Lavaltrie. That was a little too much for me. It was true that I was a mauvais sujet, that I did not practice la religion, and that I took a drink too much now and then; but between that and the fact of selling my soul to le diable there was a big difference, and I said: ‘No, siree! Pas un tonnerre!’
“ ‘Oh, you are a regular old woman,’ answered Baptiste tauntingly. ‘There is no danger whatever. We can go to Lavaltrie and back in six hours. Don’t you know that with la chasse-galerie we can travel 150 miles an hour, when one can handle the paddles as well as we all do. All there is to it is that we must not pronounce le nom du bon Dieu during the voyage, and that we must be careful not to touch the crosses on the steeples when we travel. That’s easy enough, and, to be all right, all a man has to do is look where he goes, think about what he says, and not touch a drop of liquor on the way. I have made the trip five times, and le diable has not got me yet. Come, mon vieux, stiffen up your courage, and in two hours we will be at Lavaltrie. Think of Liza Guimbette, and the pleasure you will have in kissing her “a happy New Year.” There are already seven of us to make the trip, but we must be two, four, six, or eight, to make up the crew of the canoe.’
“ ‘Yes, that’s all right, but you must make an engagement with le diable, and he is not the kind of a bourgeois that I want to make any bargain with.’
“ ‘A simple formality if we are careful where we go and not to drink. A man is not a child, pardieu! Come on! The camarades are waiting outside, and the canoe is already in the clearing. Come, come!’
“And I was led outside of the shanty, where I saw the six men who were awaiting us, paddle in hand. The large canoe was lying on a snowbank, and before I had time to think twice about it, I was seated in the bow, awaiting the signal to go. I must say that my mind was somewhat confused, but Baptiste Durand, who was a hard customer,- for, it was said, he had not been to confession for seven years,- gave me no time for reflection. He was standing in the stern, and exclaimed in a ringing voice:
“ ‘Are you ready?”
“ ‘Repeat after me.”
“And we repeated together:
“ ‘Satan! King of the infernal regions, we promise to sell you our souls, if within the following six hours we pronounce le non du bon Dieu, your master and ours, or if we touch a cross on the voyage. On that condition you will transport us through the air, wherever we may want to go, and bring us back sound and safe to the shanty. Acabris, Acabras, Acabram! Fais nous voyageur par-dessus les montagnes!’
“The last words were hardly pronounced, when we felt the canoe rising in the air to a height of five or six hundred feet. I felt as light as a feather, and at Baptiste’s command, we commenced paddling like sorcerers that we were. At the first stroke of the paddle, the canoe shot out like an arrow, and off we went under the protecting wing of le diable himself. It fairly took my breath away, and I could hear the bow of the canoe whizzing through the crisp air of the night.
“We went faster than the wind, and during the first fifteen minutes we sailed over the forest without perceiving anything else than the dark heads of the great pines. It was a beautiful night, and a full moon lighted up the sky like the midday sun. It was terribly cold though, and our mustaches were fairly frozen, while our bodies were all in a perspiration. We were paddling like demons at work in the lower regions. We soon perceived a bright, glistening belt of clear ice, that shone like a mirror. That was the Gatineau River; and then the lights in the farmhouses, which were mostly lit up on New Year’s eve. We began passing the tin-covered steeples as quickly as telegraph poles fly past in a railway train, and the spires shone in the air like the bayonets of the soldiers drilling on the Champ de Mars, in Montreal. On we went like tous les diables, passing over forests, rivers, towns, villages, and leaving behind us a trail of sparks. It was Baptiste Durand, the possede, who steered the canoe because he knew the route, and we soon came to the Ottawa River, which we followed down to the Lac des Deux montagnes!
“ ‘Look out there, said Baptiste; ‘we will just skim over Montreal and frighten some of the fellows who may be out at this hour of the night. Joe, clear your whistle and get ready to sing your best canoe-song, “Canot d’ecorce,” my boy.’
” The excitement of the trip had braced me up, and I was ready for anything. Already we could see the lights of the great city, and with an adroit stroke of his paddle, Baptiste brought us down on a level with the summit of the towers of Notre-Dame. I cleared my throat and sang ‘Canot d’ecorce,’ while my camarades joined heartily in the chorus.
” ‘Mon pere n’avait fille que moi,
Canot d’ecorce qui va voler,
Et dessus la mer il m’envoie:
Canot d’ecorce qui vole, qui vole,
Canot d’ecorce qui va voler!’ Etc.
“Although it was well on toward two o’clock in the morning, we saw some groups of men who stopped in the middle of the street to watch us go by, but we went so fast that in a twinkle we had passed Montreal and its suburbs. We were nearing the end of our voyage, and we commenced counting the steeples, -Longue Pointe, Pointe-aux-Trembles, Repentigny, St. Sulpice,- and at last we saw the two shining spires of Lavaltrie that gleamed among the dark-green pines of the domain.
“ ‘Look out over there!’ shouted Baptiste. ‘We will land on the edge of the wood, in the field of my godfather, Jean-Jean-Gabriel. From there we will proceed on foot to go and surprise our acquaintances in some fricot or dance in the neighborhood.’
“We did as directed, and five minutes later our canoe lay in a snowbank, at the edge of the wood of Jean-Jean-Gabriel. It was no small job, because the snow reached to our waists and there was no trace of any kind of road. Baptiste, who was the most daring of the crowd, went and knocked at the door of his godfather’s house, where we could see a light, but there was no one there except a servant, who told us that the old folks had gone to a snaque at old man Robillard’s place, and that the young people of the village- boys and girls- were across the St. Lawrence at Batissette Auge’s, at the Petite Misere, below Contrecoeur, where there was a New Year’s hop.
“ ‘Let us go to the dance at Batissette Auge’s,’ said Baptiste; ‘we are sure to find our sweethearts over there.’
“ ‘Let us go to Batissette Auge’s!’
“And we returned to our canoe, while cautioning one another against the great danger that there was in pronouncing certain words, in touching anything in the shape of a cross, and especially in drinking liquor of any kind. We had only four hours before us, and we must return to the shanty before six o’clock in the morning, if we wanted to escape from the clutches of Old Nick, with whom we had made such a desperate bargain. And we all knew that he was not the kind of a customer to let us off, in the event of any delay on our part.
“ ‘Acabris, Acabras, Acabram! Fais nous voyager par-dessus les montagnes!’ shouted Baptiste once more.
“And off we went again, paddling through the air, like renegades that we were, every one of us. We crossed the river in less time than it requires to tell it, and we descended in a snow-bank close to Batisette Auge’s house, where we could hear the laughter of the dancers, and see their shadows through the bright windows.
“We dragged our canoe on the riverside, to hide it among the hummocks produced by the ice-shove.
“ ‘Now,’ said Baptiste, in a last warning, ‘no nonsense! Do you hear? Dance as much as you can, but not a single glass of rum or whisky. And at the first sign, follow me out without attracting attention. We can’t be too careful!’
“And we went and knocked at the door.
“Old Batiseette came and opened the door himself, and we were received with open arms by the guests, who knew us all.
“ ‘Where do you come from?’
“ ‘I thought you were in the chantiers, up the Gatineau?’
“ ‘What makes you come so late?’
“ ‘Come and take a smile.'
“Baptiste came to the rescue by saying: ‘First and foremost, let us take our coats off, and give us a chance to dance. That’s what we came here for, and if you still feel curious in the morning, I will answer all your questions.’
“For my part, I had already spied Liza Guimbette, who was chatting away with little Boisjoli of Lanoraie. I made my reverence in due style, and at once asked for the favor of the next dance, which was a four-handed reel. She accepted with a smile that made me forget that I had risked the salvation of my soul to have the pleasure of pressing her soft white hand in mine and of cutting pigeonwings as her partner. During two hours the dancing on without stopping, and, if I do say so myself, we shanty fellows cut a shine in the dance that made the hayseeds tired before morning. I was so busy with my partner that at first I did not notice that Baptiste was visiting the buffet rather often with some of the other boys, and I once caught him lifting his elbow in rather a suspicious manner. But I had no idea that the fellow would get tipsy, after all the lecturing he had given us on the road. When four o’clock struck, all the members of our crew began to edge out of the house without attracting attention, but I had to drag Baptiste before he would consent to go. At last we were all out, with just two hours before us to reach the camp, and three hundred miles to ride in our canoe, under the protection of Beelzebub. We had left the dance like wild Indians without saying good-by to anybody, not even to Liza Guimbette, whom I had invited for the next cotillon. I always thought that she bore me a grudge for that, because when I reached home the next summer she was Madame Boisjoli.
“We found our canoe all right in the hummocks, but I need hardly tell you that we were all put out when we found that Baptiste Durand had been drinking. He was to steer the boat, and we had no time to lose in humoring the fancies of a drunken man. The moon was not quite so bright as when we started from the camp, and it was not without misgivings that I took my place in the bow of the canoe, well decided to keep a sharp lookout ahead for accidents. Before starting I said to Baptiste:
“ ‘Look out, Baptiste, old fellow! Steer straight for the mountain of Montreal, as soon as you can get a glimpse of it.’
“ ‘I know my business,’ answered Baptiste sharply, ‘and you had better mind yours.’
“What could I do? And before I had time for further reflections:
“ ‘Acabris! Acabras! Acabram! Fais nous voyager par-dessus les montagnes!’
“And up we went again like lightning, steering southwest, if the wild way in which Baptiste managed our boat could be called steering. We passed over the steeple of the church at Contrecoeur, coming pretty close to it, but instead of going west Baptiste made us take a sheer towards the Richelieu River. A few minutes later we were skimming over Beloeil Mountain, and we came within ten feet of striking the big cross that the Bishop of Quebec planted there, during a temperance picnic held a few years before by the clergy of his diocese.
“ ‘To the right, Baptiste! Steer to the right, or else you will send us all to le diable if you keep on going that way.’
“And Baptiste did instinctively turn to the right, and we steered straight for the mountain of Montreal, which we could perceive in the distance by the dim lights of the city. I must say that I was becoming frightened, because if Baptiste kept on steering as he had done, we would never reach the Gatineau alive, and le diable was probably smacking his lips, as I supposed, at the bare idea of making a New Year’s mess of us. And I can tell you that the disaster was not long in coming. While we were passing over the city, Baptiste Durand uttered a yell, and, flourishing his paddle over his head, gave us a twist that sent us plunging into a snow-drift, in a clearing on the mountain-side. Luckily the snow was soft, and none of us were hurt, nor was the canoe injured in any way. But Baptiste got out and declared most emphatically that he was going down-town to have un verre. We tried to reason with him, but our efforts proved useless, as is generally the case with les ivrognes. He would go down if le diable himself were to catch hold of him on the way. I held a moment’s consultation with mes camarades, and, before Baptiste knew what we were about, we had him down in the snow, where we bound him hand and foot so as to render him incapable of interfering with our movements. We placed him in the bottom of the canoe, and gagged him so as to prevent him from speaking any words that might give us up to perdition.
” And ‘Acabris! Acabras! Acabram!’ Up we went again, this time steering straight for the Gatineau. I had taken Baptiste’s place in the stern. We had only a little over an hour to reach camp, and we all paddled away for dear life and eternal salvation. We followed the Ottawa River as far as the Pointe-Gatineau, and then steered due north by the polar star for our shanty. We were fairly flying in the air, and everything was going well when that rascal of a Baptiste managed to slip the ropes we had bound him with and to pull off his gag. We had been so busy paddling that, the first thing we knew, he was standing in the canoe, paddle in hand, and swearing like a pagan. I felt that our end had come if he pronounced a certain sacred word, and it was out of the question to appease him in his frenzy. We had only a few miles to go to reach camp, and we were floating over the pine forest. The position was really terrible. Baptiste was using his paddle like a shillalah and making a moulinet that threatened very moment to crush in some one’s head. I was so excited that by a false movement of my own paddle I let the canoe came down on a level with the pines, and it was upset as it struck the head of a big tree. We all fell out and began dropping down from branch to branch like partridges shot from the tamarack-tops. I don’t know how long I was coming down, because I fainted before we reached the snow beneath, but my last recollection was like the dream of a man who feels himself dropping down a well without ever reaching the bottom.
“About eight o’clock the next morning, I awoke in my bunk, in the cabin, whither some of our camarades had conveyed us after having found us to our necks in a neighboring snow-bank, at the foot of a monster pine-tree. Happily, no one was seriously hurt, although we were all more or less bruised and scratched, some having secured even black eyes on our way down from the tree-top. We were all thankful that nothing worse had befallen us, and when the camarades said that they had found us sleeping away in the snow the effects of the previous night’s frolic, not one of us had anything to say to the contrary. We all felt satisfied that our escapade with Old Nick remained unknown in the camp, and we preferred leaving our chums under the impression that we had taken un verre too many, to telling them of the bargain we had made to satisfy a passing fancy. So far as Baptiste Durand was concerned, there is no doubt that he had forgotten the latter part of his voyage, but he never alluded to the fact, and we followed his example. It was not till many years afterwards that I related the story of our aventures, just as they happened on that memorable New Year’s eve.
“All I can say, my friends, is that it is not so amusing as some people might think, to travel in mid-air, in the dead of winter, under the guidance of Beelzebub, running la chasse-galerie, and especially if you have un ivrogne to steer your bark canoe. Take my advice, and don’t listen to any one who would try to rope you in for such a trip. Wait until summer before you go to see your sweethearts, for it is better to run all the rapids of the Ottawa and the St. Lawrence on a raft, than to travel in partnership with le diable himself.”
And Joe, the cook, dipped a ladleful of boiling molasses from the big kettle on the fire, and declared that everything was now ready for the candy-pull.
The Century Magazine, New York,
Vol. 44, Issue 4 (Aug. 1892)
 Coureurs des bois– literally “runners of the woods” in French- were independent French-Canadian fur traders. Throughout the 17th and early 18th Centuries, these frontiersmen travelled deep into the North American wilderness by canoe to trade with various First Nations, exchanging European goods for beaver pelts and other valuable furs.
 Voyageurs were canoe-going fur traders of chiefly French-Canadian extraction who differed from coureurs des bois in that they worked for licensed fur trading companies.
 Although often used to designate the lead vocalist in a choir of shanty-singing sailors, the word “shantyman” is this case probably means “lumberjack”.
 Beelzebub is a demon of Hebrew scripture whose name literally translates to “Lord of the Flies”. In this instance, the word “Beelzebub” almost certainly denotes the Devil.
 “Old Nick” is an antiquated term for the Devil.
 Literally “the devil” in French.
 Literally “bad spirit” in French; a French expression designating a negative or derisive disposition.
 A stew.
 French-Canadian dumplings made from a flour-egg-milk dough boiled in broth.
 The French term for chiaroscuro, the use of strong contrasts between light and dark in painting.
 Literally “good old Jamaica”, meaning rum in this case.
 An old French term denoting scoundrel who deserves to hang.
 Literally “neither God nor Devil” in French.
 “Comrades” in French.
 “Rum” in French.
 “Damned good” in French.
 A rural district on the St. Lawrence River located about 130 miles (209 kilometres) southeast of the head of the Gatineau River, as the cr8ow flies.
 Literally “bad subject” in French; a worthless person.
 Literally “not thunder” in French; absolutely not.
 “The name of the good Lord” in French.
 “My pal” in French.
 “By God” in French.
 “Let us travel over the mountains!” in French.
 An old military parade ground in Montreal, Quebec.
 “All the devils” in French.
 “The possessed” in French.
 The Lake of Two Mountains, the confluence of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers.
 Literally “Bark Canoe” in French.
 When translated to English: “My father only had a daughter, Cark canoe that will fly, And over the sea he sends me: Bark canoe that flies, flies, Bark canoe that will fly!”
 Literally a type of French-Canadian stew; in this context, meaning a feast or party.
 A festive dinner.
 Come and have a drink.
 Also “cotillion”, a French country dance.
 A glass (of liquor).
 The intoxicated.
 A wooden club used as a dueling weapon by Irish gentlemen.
 A wheeling motion performed in a lively dance.
La Chasse-Galerie: From Honore Beaugrand’s ‘La Chasse Galerie and Other Canadian Stories’ (1900) was last modified: January 9th, 2020 by Hammerson Peters
Ever since the passing of the Official Languages Act in 1969, Canada has officially been a bilingual nation with two official languages: English and French. Today, most Canadian goods sold outside the province of Quebec have both French and English labels on their packaging; Canadian flight attendants address airline passengers in both French and English; and most high-ranking Canadian government officials are required to be fluent in both of our nation’s official languages. Despite the half century in which Canada has officially existed as a bilingual nation, the cultural and linguistic rifts between French and English-speaking Canada remain nearly as strong today as they were during the days of the Seven Years’ War. Barring the residents of a few French-speaking enclaves scattered throughout the Western provinces and Northeastern Ontario, and excepting the Francophonic habitants of historic Acadian settlements in the Maritimes, most Canadians living outside Quebec have a limited knowledge of the French language. Similarly, less than 15% of Quebecois, discounting the denizens of Quebec City and Montreal, are fluent in English.
One unfortunate consequence of the language barrier separating French Canada from its English-speaking counterpart is the segregation of Francophonic and Anglophonic Canada’s respective histories and folklores. By dint of their mother tongue, French-Canadian folklorists and historians are uniquely equipped to research the old French letters, journals, and newspaper articles from which interesting fragments of history and folklore can be extracted. English-speaking Canadians, of course, enjoy a similar advantage when it comes to researching historical sources written in the English language. Since there are precious few folklorists and historians literate in both French and English who also possess the inclination to translate sources from one language to the other for the benefit of the unilingual, French-Canadian stories- particularly those of the local variety- tend to remain in Quebec, while non-French-Canadian stories have a tough time making their way into la Belle Province. As a result, many French-speaking Quebecois, through no fault of their own, remain ignorant of the exciting tales of Canada’s Wild West and the Klondike Gold Rush, while most Anglophonic Canucks live their lives bereft of the rich history and folklore endemic to the St. Lawrence River Valley, the frontier tales of Pays d’en Haut (the “Upper Country” of New France; the Great Lakes region), and the legends of old Acadia.
Fortunately, there have been a few bilingual French-Canadian historians and folklorists who have generously translated some of the old tales of New France into English for the benefit of us English-speaking Canadians. One of these gentlemen was Honore Beaugrand, a French-Canadian soldier, journalist, politician, newspaper owner, and writer.
Honore Beaugrand was born on March 24, 1848 in what is now the town of Lanoraie, Quebec, situated on the St. Laurence River about halfway between Montreal and Trois-Riveres. After studying briefly with a Roman Catholic teaching order called the Clerics of Saint Viator, at the College Joliette, and at the School of Military Instruction of Montreal, 17-year-old Beaugrand travelled to Mexico and joined the army of Emperor Maximilian I, the Habsburg Archduke of Austria and the first and only monarch of the short-lived, French-backed Second Mexican Empire. Beaugrand fought for the Emperor for eighteen months, probably leaving France with other French troops who evacuated Mexico throughout the spring and fall of 1866. In the summer of 1867, Maximilian’s loyalist Mexican troops were defeated, and the Emperor himself was executed by firing squad.
Honore Beaugrand spent the next few works working various jobs in France, Mexico, and the United States. In 1871, he established himself in the town of Fall River, Massachusetts, home to a sizeable population of Quebecois immigrants, and quickly became one of the town’s leading French-Canadian citizens. There, he established a French newspaper called L’Echo du Canada, which was sympathetic to the plight of French-Americans. From 1875 until 1879, Beaugrand worked for, established, and ran a number of different newspapers based out of Fall River; Montreal, Quebec; Boston, Massachusetts; St. Louis, Missouri; and Ottawa, Ontario.
Beaugrand eventually settled in Montreal, where he immersed himself in local and federal politics. A radical Liberal, he was elected twice as the mayor of Montreal, and served that office from 1885-1887. In the year of his first election, he was awarded the French Legion of Honour, the highest French military and civil merit.
In the early 1890s, Beaugrand began to withdraw from politics on account of poor health. He spent the next decade and a half travelling throughout the Mediterranean, the American Southwest, and the Orient, writing as he went.
In the year 1900, Honore Beaugrand published a French-language collection of his recent writings, which he entitled La Chasse Galerie: Legendes Canadiennes, or “The Pleasure Hunt: Canadian Legends”. In this book, he included several short stories based on the rural folklore of Quebec, specifically the titular La Chasse-Galerie, or “The Pleasure Hunt”; Le Loup-Garou, or “The Werewolf”; La Bete a Grand’Queue, or “The Big-Tailed Beast”; Macloune; Le Pere Louison, or “Father Louison”; and Le Fantome de L’Avare, or “The Miser’s Ghost”. Today, Beaugrand’s book is considered French-Canadian literary classic.
That same year, Beaugrand published another collection of his own stories based on Quebecois legends, this one written in English. This anthology, entitled La Chasse Galerie and Other Canadian Stories, included an English translation of Beaugrand’s La Chasse-Galerie as it appeared in his aforementioned French book; an English translation of his story Le Loup-Garou, which he entitled “The Werwolves” in this issue; and a story called La Quete de l’Enfant Jesus, which translates to “The Quest for the Child Jesus”.
Four years later, in 1904, Honore Beaugrand published a third collection of Canadian short stories (written in English) entitled New Studies of Canadian Folk Lore. This book included a Foreword by Canadian writer William Douw Lighthall and four chapters entitled “The Goblin Lore of French Canada”; “Macloune” (which was an English translation of the French story from Beaugrand’s earlier book La Chasse Galerie: Legendes Canadiennes); “Indian Picture and Symbol Writing”; and “Legend of the North Pacific”.
Honore Beaugrand passed away on August 7, 1906, in Westmount, Quebec- an enclave in the city of Montreal- and was cremated at Mount Royal Cemetery in another Montreal borough called Outremont.
Canadian Dictionary of Bibliography: Volume XIII (1901-1910), by Francois Ricard (volume edited by George W. Brown, Ramsay Cook, and Jean Hamelin)
The following is a reproduction of Honore Beaugrand’s three classic collections of Canadian folktales: La Chasse Galerie: Legendes Canadiennes (1900; English translation); La Chasse Galerie and Other Canadian Stories (1900); and New Studies of Canadian Folk Lore (1904):
La Chasse Galerie: Legendes Canadiennes (1900; English Translation)
La Bete a Grand’Queue
Le Pere Louison
Le Fantome de L’Avare
La Chasse Galerie and Other Canadian Stories (1900)
After speaking with the French fur traders, Henry decided that it would be in his best interest to bring his trade goods to the “Nadowessies”, or the Dakota Sioux of Lake Michigan; and the “Chipewa”, or Ojibwa of Lake Superior. On the day of his departure, however, Fort Michilimackinac was visited by about two hundred Ottawa warriors from a southwesterly village called “L’Arbre Croche”, or “Crooked Tree” (present-day Harbor Springs, Michigan), which revolved around a Jesuit mission. Henry described these Ottawa as being “much advanced in civilization” compared to the Ojibwa of Mackinac on account of their proficiency in the art of growing maize, or Indian corn.
The Ottawa chiefs ordered Henry and his men to meet with them in the fort’s governor’s house. There, one of the Ottawa leaders addressed the traders, telling them that he and his people had been glad when they heard the news that English traders had arrived in the country, as they were in desperate need of supplies. They became dismayed, however, when they learned that these goods would instead be transported away to be sold to other nations, some of whom were their enemies. The chief then implored the Englishmen to give every Ottawa man 50-beaver-pelts’-worth of goods and ammunition on credit, assuring them that his people would pay their debts in the summer.
Henry and his men learned, presumably from the French traders at Mackinac, that the Ottawa were notorious for failing to repay their creditors. When the Englishman and his voyageurs attempted to negotiate better terms, the Ottawa informed them that they would give them one day to consider their initial offer. If they refused it, the Ottawa would take the traders’ goods by force.
That night, as the traders’ pondered their situation, Henry and his men were visited by Farley, their French interpreter. Farley informed them that the Ottawa intended to murder them that night, and urged them to accept their proposal before they launched their attack. Henry, however, distrusting the Frenchman, suspected that the disturbing report was nothing more than an attempt to induce him and his men to abandon their enterprise. Instead of taking Farley’s advice, Henry armed his men with muskets and stationed guards around his house. Fortunately, the night passed quietly.
The next morning, the Ottawa asked Henry and his men to attend a second council with them. The Englishman and his voyageurs simply refused the offer, opting instead to remain in Henry’s cabin. That night, they received the comforting and unexpected news that a detachment of British soldiers had been tasked with garrisoning Mackinac, and were expected to arrive early the following morning.
Henry and his traders spent an anxious night in the house, having received word around midnight that the Ottawa were holding a war council. To their surprise and relief, however, the Ottawa broke camp and departed without a fight just before sunrise. Later that morning, the fort’s French traders met with the adventurers and congratulated them on their good fortune. The Frenchmen told Henry and his men that the Ottawa had proposed that they join them in a surprise attack on the incoming English soldiers. Their refusal to participate in the ambush disheartened the Ottawa and was the reason for their departure.
That day, at noon, 300 infantrymen of the British Army’s 60th Regiment of Foot marched into Fort Michilimackinac, relieving Henry and his men of all their anxieties regarding the Ottawa and other hostile Indians native to the area. While natives from all around flocked to the fort to pay their respects to its new British commander, a number of Henry’s voyageurs set out on their planned journeys to Lakes Michigan and Superior.
To be continued in The Adventures of Alexander Henry: Part 6.
The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 5 was last modified: January 8th, 2020 by Hammerson Peters
IN ADDING THE LAST chapter to a history I commenced to write nearly thirty years ago, and have at odd times carried on, and then let long intervals pass without a word being written, I wish to draw the attention of my readers to the following points:
I have not tried to write a novel, but only the dry facts of the original opening of the Northwest Territories of Canada in the days of 1874, and on to the year 1887, which thirteen years really take in the hard work done by the police in opening up that section.
As immigration brought bore people into the country, of course things changed, and that very rapidly, as I stated in the last chapter. For eight or nine years up to 1895, the progress was slow, but today, that is in the year 1905, a jump of another ten years, the changes are more astonishing, and in a few pages I will show what these changes have been.
So far as I am concerned, my life since leaving the Indian department in 1887 has been a varied one. In British Columbia, prospecting and mining; in the State of Montana as United States Forest Ranger; and in many western states and territories, in all sorts of capacities, I still have been in touch with my old friends in western Canada, and have watched the advancement of that country with the greatest interest. Large towns have sprung up at Calgary, Edmonton and Macleod, and nearly all points where our first police forts were built; cattle are on the prairie by tens of thousands; farms are flourishing where the buffalo used to graze; and, recently taking a trip through western Alberta, I was unable to recognize the country. Railroads now run where our cart roads used to be, towns have sprung up where we used to camp, and all is changed.
Just think of it. Calgary, which I left twenty years ago, had then about 200 inhabitants; today it has 12,000, electric lights, fine stone and brick buildings; and Macleod and Edmonton are not behind. The immigration is increasing by leaps and bounds, and that from the western States of America is, I think, the best element obtainable for the settlement of western Canada that can be got.
Much has recently been said regarding the influx of Americans, and the idea that the American element coming into the country is liable to Americanize Canada. I find that these western Americans settling in western Canada become good law-abiding British subjects; they like our laws, and are all thoroughly practical men, nearly all with means and great push. They will make this western country, as they are doing in the mining sections of British Columbia. For some reason our people of Canada are slower in taking hold of an opportunity in the way of opening up a section of country than our neighbors of the south. I do not like the idea of bringing in large numbers of pauper emigrants from Europe, such as Doukhobors. These uneducated people are a detriment to any country, and their emigration to western Canada should be discouraged, and that of hardy intelligent western American settlers cannot be too much encouraged.
Nearly all of the police officers mentioned in this book have passed to the great beyond, and I know only today of five besides myself of the old police officers of 1874 who are still living. The hardships endured in those old days, in a great measure caused them to die off at really not a great age, and even the men who came out west in the ‘70’s, although not remaining as long as most of the officers, are few and far between.
Many of the old police constables settled in the country, and went in for cattle ranching; these men married and raised families, and nearly all did well, but only a few of them are alive today. Different government parties have come into power and gone out, but the great work has steadily gone ahead, and the time is fast coming when that great country which we found a wilderness, and only inhabited by Indians in 1874, will have the say, and the whole say, in the directing of the policy of the Canadian Government, and the Government cannot learn that too soon for the benefit of the whole of Canada. The west is the coming country for farming, mining, and cattle raising, and these industries are the ones that bring wealth to a country, and populate it with hardy, intelligent and enterprising people, who go to make a great nation.
Manitoba is fast filling up, and since the early days of the police railroads have been built in many directions, and branches constructed north and south, thereby opening up to settlement a vast country that in our days was wholly unoccupied.
The railroads in Alberta are now running right through the heart of the farming and cattle grazing country. A road now runs from the boundary on the south, through Lethbridge (which is a prosperous mining town), Macleod and Calgary, northward over 300 miles to Edmonton, and all along this road prosperous towns are springing up, being feeders to the agricultural and stock country behind. The Northwest Mounted Police are everywhere stationed all through this section, with central posts in Edmonton, Calgary, and Macleod, and outposts all through the west. They are most efficient in their work, giving information regarding customs duties, or any information a settler may require, recovering stolen stock, and in all cases seeing that life and property are safe, and a more efficient force is not to be found in the world. The force is now over 1,000 strong, and they are scattered from Alaska to the American boundary line, and detachments are even stationed on the shores of Hudson’s Bay.
The force which was led out to the far west in 1874 by Lieut.-Colonel French, now General Sir G.A. French, K.C.M.G., and were the first to open the Northwest Territories, are still as efficient as ever, and it would indeed be hard to get on without them.
Not only have the police continued until the present day to do good work and valuable service all through the Northwest, but detachments are stationed on Hudson’s Bay, at the mouth of the Mackenzie river, with 300 men permanently stationed in the Yukon Territory, in which country they carry out the laws, oversee mining settlements, carry mails, and, in fact, do both civil and military work during the hard winters and short summers, just as well as they did the work in the old days of the opening of the Territories.
I cannot close without mentioning the work of this force during the South African War, and although they were not known as a corp in South Africa, still the Northwest Mounited Police contributed largely to the force sent by Canada. They sent enough men to have formed a regiment, but yet, although they did the very best of service, little was heard of them. While other Canadian corps have had their merits extolled to the skies, you hear little of the work done by the police, both officers and men, who did so much to make for thorough efficiency, bravery and everything that goes to comprise a strong, hardy, and soldierly body of men.
The police never trumpeted their deeds, but, through hardships and trials of all kinds, ever went forward on the path of duty, regardless of fear or favor. As an instance of their work in South Africa, I might mention that the Canadian Mounted Rifles of 1899 and 1900, and the Strathcona Horse of 1900, were officered and organized by the police, and contained a large number of police non-commissioned officers and men on leave, and ex-members of the force were to be found in the ranks. It was the same with the Second and Fifth Regiments of the C.M.R., the last being commanded by Inspector McDonnell.
The contingent commanded by Lieut-Colonel Herchmer, 400 strong, were, you might say, all Northwest Mounted Police, only two officers not belonging to that corps. The splendid service they did is well remembered. Lieutenant-Colonel Sanders was second in command
of the Second Regiment of Canadian Mounted Rifles, and served a year of stern duty, under General Hutten, and General Smith-Dorrien.
Lord Roberts, in a despatch, dated Johannesburg, Nov. 5, 1900, reports to the War Office as follows:
“Smith-Dorrien states that Major Sanders and Captain Chalmers (of the Canadian Mounted Rifles) behaved with great gallantry in the action of Nov 2. Sanders rode out under a heavy fire to bring in a horseless non-commissioned officer (Tryon, nephew of Admiral Tryon, who went down in the Victoria). Sanders was wounded, and his horse killed, and Chalmers went to his assistance. Sanders implored him to leave, but was refused, and the gallant Chalmers was killed.”
The above is one of the many brave acts done by police officers and men. The officer mentioned above was recommended for the Victoria Cross, which he well deserved but never received. Major Sanders was thrice wounded, as also was Captain McDonnell; both received the D.S.O.
Major, now Colonel, Sanders received his commission in the police in 1882, and went through hard service in the west. Since his return from South Africa he has been in command of the Calgary district, and the manner in which law is enforced, and settlers protected and helped, shows that the police officers of today are fully equal to those of the old days. Many other individual acts of bravery were done by members of the police force, enough to fill a volume, but they have been but little heard of, except through the dry records of the official blue books. This is not as it should be, and I hope the time is not far distant when the work done by the police in South Africa will be brought before the world in its true light, and the people of Canada will then realize what a splendid force they have in the Northwest Mounted Police.
I may at some future tie go more fully into the progress made in the Northwest Territories since 1887, but many books have been written already on the subject, and my idea has been only to give a brief history of the early work of the Northwest Mounted Police, and the opening of the Northwest Territories from 1873 until the present time. There is a rumor abroad that the Northwest Mounted Police force will be removed from Edmonton, Calgary, Macleod and central points, where the towns are to be formed to do the work now done by the police. This will be found to e a mistake, as it has taken the police force thirty-one years to come to their present state of efficiency, to learn the country thoroughly, and understand the handling of the thousands of Indians still in the Territories. Not only that, but the knowledge gained in all these years as to how to handle and help the settler recover stolen stock, and make the Canadian law so respected in the west that you never hear of railroad hold-ups, or other depredations committed that are so prevalent in the Western States of America, will be to some extent lost. The first thing an American settler remarks when he comes into Alberta is the wonderful way the law is upheld, and the rights of all settlers protected. I have, therefore, added this last chapter to show this western country has gone ahead since I closed the early history in 1887, and also to show that without this grand force of Mounted Police this could not have taken place; and I have written this book so that some record (and that authentic) should remain of those early days of hardships and adventure, undergone altogether by that force to which I had the honor to belong, so that the new generation growing up in the Western Territories of Canada will have some idea as to how their country was first opened up, and that they may give unstinted praise to those grand men of the original Northwest Mounted Police, who made it possible for them to live I peace and quietness, in a law abiding country.
Progress of the Territories was last modified: December 31st, 2019 by Hammerson Peters
IN CLOSING THIS VOLUME I write a few words on the advantages, or otherwise, of settling in the present Northwest Territories, which comprise the following divisions: Alberta, Assiniboia, Saskatchewan, Keewatin, and Athabasca, more particularly to those intending settlers coming from the old country. Much advertising is done in England showing forth the easy living to be derived by men with means going to Western Canada, and many men come out without the slightest idea of the country, or the hardships they will have to endure before they attain that state of wealth which they fondly hoped, before they left home, would come to them with little endeavor on their part.
What I have written in this book goes to show the country in its first state on the advent of the police, its gradual settlement from that time until 1886, how farms were started and stock brought in, and the success, or otherwise, of these undertakings. These matters I have endeavored to fairly portray without fear or favor, stating only as far as my knowledge went the actual facts, and I now, in closing skip nine years, in which time many changes have taken place, and close the volume for the time, taking the history up to 1895.
The eastern portion of the Territories has rapidly come to the front as a farming country. Going westward from Maple Creek as far as the mountains, and from the boundary line on the south to Calgary and Edmonton in the north, is, in my opinion, the garden of the Territories, and nothing can be too great for its future. This country was the home, and both summer and winter the grazing ground for buffalo; it is one immense grazing ground, with grand soil as well, which with cultivation and irrigation will yield prolifically.
The winters in this area are comparatively mild. A few days or perhaps a few weeks during any winter may be severe, and the thermometer may go down to 40 below zero, but this is not lasting, a warm wind, named the Chinook, will spring up, and in twelve hours or less the snow will disappear and the ground will be covered with water. This will continue for weeks, the cattle and horses running out all winter without shelter or feed, and come out fat in the spring. In March the farmer can begin his ploughing, and the rivers break up. One of the great drawbacks to the settlement of southern Alberta at first was that the Canadian Government granted large tracts of the most fertile land of this section to large cattle corporations, giving them long leases at a nominal rental, with the option of the purchase of thousands of acres at the end of their term. These companies naturally picked out the best grazing lands, with water front, on the most timbered bottoms on the rivers, and, as according to their lease with the Government they were perfectly right in doing so, they kept all settlers off until within the last few years, when some of the leases have been thrown open.
Calgary started with a rush, and it has the markings of a fine town. In the Macleod district, although this was the centre of the leasing policy of the Government, and although the settlement of the country has, on that account, been slower than probably any other portion of the Northwest, prospects are bright. The old town of Macleod, started in 1874, on the advent of the police, and moved to its present site many years after, never underwent a boom, and is not much larger today than in those old times, but its best days are to come. A grand stock raising country both north and south; a wonderful climate, and as fertile a soil as in any part of the world; but it must still be remembered that all prairie countries are subject to drought, particularly where timber is scarce and land uncultivated. This will pass, as these gaps are filled up, and no doubt irrigation will have to be resorted to in the first place before equable seasons are attained, but this will surely follow as the country gest settle and cultivated. Tree planting will also come into vogue, which will also be a great help towards making the seasons more moist. Irrigation is no doubt costly, but probably in time the Canadian Government will see the advantage of giving grants towards this end, and it will have the advantage of bringing more settlers into the country and making a sale for the millions of acres of vacant lands, which will always remain vacant unless irrigation is resorted to. This irrigation is only required in southern Alberta, on what are now the cattle ranges. North of Calgary to Edmonton, the farther you go the damper the soil, and after you are 50 miles north of Calgary the timber belt begins and runs into the far north. In this section rain is abundant, and the soil very rich in consequence. This is at the present time a section of the Northwest to which settlers from the States and the old country are flocking, and a good class too, going in for mixed farming and stock raising. Many hundreds of families have been settling in the section between Calgary and Edmonton in the last four years. But although this section is undoubtedly a good farming country, with plenty of wood, coal, water and hay, it must be remembered that some winters are severe, not
particularly as to cold, but the snow fall has often been deep. As the snow lies all winter, the Chinook winds not often being felt in that section, stock wintering out would run a chance of suffering; therefore any settler going into that part should be prepared to not only feed his stock in winter, but also have shelter for them. This, of course, would be more costly than wintering out, but a farmer could only keep a limited number of animals.
Farming, as I have before stated, is in that part of the country a success, and a large acreage of nearly all kinds of grain can be grown, but grain and vegetables are not easily sold there. There are many advantages, however, to counterbalance these drawbacks; living is cheap, as all garden produce and grain can be grown; hay for stock is plentiful; wood or coal for fuel is there in abundance; much game, such as ducks, geese and rabbits are to be got for shooting, and minerals are beginning to be discovered; gold mining on some of the rivers even now pays well during low water. These are certainly advantages, and no doubt, when railroads are built, its disadvantages will disappear. Therefore, for mixed farming with stock on a moderate scale, not more than can be winter fed, no better section can be found in Canada.
There is an enormous country lying north of Edmonton, nearly altogether uninhabited, rich in minerals no doubt right to the mouth of the Mackenzie river, and the time is bound to come when this section will be opened up, and then Edmonton and that district will be the point of supply for it, and those settled there will be well paid for waiting. I have briefly glanced at the different sections of the Territories as they are today, and honestly given my impressions of them for the guidance of intending settlers, and will in a few words give some advice to those intending settlers I wrote more especially for.
Do not expect to grow rich at once, or without putting your shoulder to the wheel. When you have chosen your location, remain there, and grow up with the country. The old motto is true: A rolling stone gathers no moss; so will a moving settler gather no wealth.
Do not begin in a large way- a few cows, horses, hogs, and chickens; your buildings, fencing and tools can be procured in any portion of Alberta, at as reasonable a price as anywhere else in Canada. Take care of these, and you will in a few years be surprised at the way your stock has increased, and remember that each year the land is increasing in value.
Keep out of debt, and even stint yourself before borrowing money from those sharks always on the look-out to lend money on a mortgage on stock or land; many of these abound, and are growing rich at their business, lending money on good security at 2 per cent. Per month. No farmer can stand this, as he must, as many have, only get deeper and deeper into debt, until nothing is left.
Temperate living is absolutely necessary. The small towns through the Territories now abound with licensed hotels and bars, and a hardworking farmer coming into town, after many months of quiet on his ranche, is only too liable to meet his friends, and, before he is aware of the fact, a great portion of his summer’s earnings has gone over the bar for good and all.
The climate of the western Territories is very healthy, and the life on a ranche a pleasant one, the work being far from laborious. With care a competency is secure; railroads are building, and each year more will be built, bringing a market to the door of the farmer. He is not cut off from civilization, as in some new countries, and neighbors are not far apart. The class of settler now in the country is of a very high standard, and good company can always be found; hunting and fishing can, at certain seasons, always be procured, and a hunting trip into the mountains in the fall is an inexpensive and splendid change.
Those intending to settle should at least have the knowledge of the prices of stock, and other accessories to farming, so as to be able to know what would be required to begin, and not be in the hands of agents, or those who require premiums. These are generally a swindle.
I will now draw this book to a close, and trust that the little advice I have given will be received in the same spirit in which it is offered, coming, as it does, from experience gained while seeing the country develop from 1874 until the time in which this book is written.
ALL THE MILITIA stationed in the west were withdrawn by the fall of 1885, and the scouts disbanded. All men of the militia, and those engaged as scouts, received land grants for their services, but the police received none; a most unjust and unwarranted measure. These men had borne the burden and the heat of the day all through 1885, doing their work in grand style, work that only long training could fit them to fulfil, but on account of their being a regular corps, a land grant which all others received, including many of those who did no work at all, was denied them. Thanks and promises were profuse after the rebellion, and that was about all. I myself received thanks in a flowing letter, which I still have, and also the promise of a permanent position, which was, of course, unfulfilled.
On the withdrawal of the militia forces, the police force was increased to 1,000 men, up to which strength it has continued, until recently, and many new detachments were posted at different points throughout the country. Telegraph lines were also constructed from different points on the Canadian Pacific to points such as Macleod, Lethbridge, Wood Mountain, etc.
The whiskey traffic had increased during the summer of ’85, as most of the points along the line were left unwatched. Horse stealing had also become common, many American Indians and white men making a business of it during this summer.
This horse stealing was not along confined to the Northwest, but a police detachment under Inspector Saunders was stationed in southern Manitoba, and found this crime rife. He, however, put a complete stop to it, and, on returning to headquarters in the fall of ’85, reported that for some time previous to his leaving not a case was reported.
Inspector Steele had been stationed with a strong detachment in the mountains along the line of the C.P. railroad, and his work, although difficult, was completely performed. He remained there until his services were required to take charge of a force, which, as I have already mentioned, operated under General Strange. An extract from his report will show the work he had to do. He states:
“About the 1st of April, owing to wages being in arrears, 1,200 of the workmen struck where the end of the track then was, and informed the manager of construction that, unless paid up in full at once, they would do no more work. They also openly stated their intention of committing acts of violence upon the staff of the road, and of destroying property. I received a deputation of the ringleaders, and assured them that if they committed any acts of violence, and were not orderly in the strictest sense of the word, I would inflict upon the offenders the severest punishment the law would allow me. They saw the manager of construction, who promised to accede to their demands, as far as lay in his power, if they would return to their camps, their board not to cost them anything in the meantime. Some were satisfied with this, and several hundred returned to their camps. The remained stayed at the Beaver (where there was a population of 700 loose characters), ostensibly waiting for their money. They were apparently very quiet, but one morning word was brought to me that some of them were ordering tracklayers to quit work, teamsters freighting supplies to leave their teams, and bridgemen to leave their work. I sent detachments of police to the points threatened, leaving only two men to take charge of the prisoners at my post. I instructed the men in charge of the detachments to use the very severest measures to prevent a cessation of the work of construction.
“On the same afternoon Constable Kerr, having occasion to go to the town, saw a contractor named Rehan, a well known desperado (supposed to be in sympathy with the strike) drunk and disorderly, and attempted to arrest him. The constable was immediately attacked by a large crowd of strikers and roughs, thrown down, and ultimately driven off. He returned to barracks, and on the return of Sergeant Fury with a party of three men from the end of the track, that non-commissioned officer went with two men to arrest the offending contractor, whom they found in a saloon in the midst of a gang of drunken companions. The two constables took hold of him and brought him out, but a crowd of men, about 200 strong and all armed, rescued him, in spite of the most resolute conduct on the part of the police. The congregated strikers aided in the rescue, and threatened the constables when they persisted in their efforts.
“As the sergeant did not desire to use his pistol, except in the most dire necessity, he came to me (I was on a sick bed at the time), and asked for orders. I directed him to go and seize the offender, and shoot any of the crowd who should interfere. He returned and arrested the man, but had to shoot one of the rioters through the shoulder before the crowd would stand back. I then requested Mr. Johnston, J.P., to explain the riot act to the mob, and inform them that I would use the strongest measures to prevent any recurrence of the trouble. I had all the men who resisted the police, or aided Rehan, arrested the next morning, and fined them, together with him, $100 each, or six months’ hard labor.
“The strike collapsed next day. The roughs, having had a severe lesson, were quiet. The conduct of the police during this trying time was all that could be desired. There were only five men at the Beaver at the time, and they faced the powerful mob of armed roughs with as much resolution as if backed by hundreds.
“While the strike was in progress, I received a telegram from His Honor the Lieutenant-governor of the Northwest Territories, directing me to proceed to Calgary at once with all the men, but in the interests of the public service I was obliged to reply, stating that to obey was impossible until the strike was settled.
“On the 7th day of April the laborers had all been paid and I forthwith proceeded to Calgary, leaving the men in charge of Sergt. Fury; everything was perfectly satisfactory.”
In the early part of the winter of 1885, I reported to the Government that it was not necessary for me to act for them among the western Indians, any further, everything being quiet and the agents well able to do their work. Having retired to my ranche near Macleod, a telegram was brought me from the Lieutenant-governor at Regina, requesting me to pay him a visit at that place. I therefore proceeded to Regina, and found that Mr. Dewdney had just returned from Ottawa, and he stated that the Government were still most anxious about the Indians in the west, and that he had the premier’s authority to request me to remain among the western Indians, and watch their movements, and keep him well informed of them during the winter. I was at first rather disinclined for any more work under that department, but he informed me that if I would accede to his request a permanent appointment would be tendered me in the spring. I therefore agreed to do as requested, and returned to Macleod, visiting the reserves often during the winter, and keeping matters straight. Among other things I was informed during the winter that it was the intention of the Government to sent troops into the west, to show the Indians the power of the Government, and I was asked my opinion, which I most decidedly gave in the negative, the Indians all being quiet. Such a step would only have caused fresh trouble to arise. The project was, therefore, wisely abandoned.
The following spring, as there was no sign that the promises made me would be fulfilled, and as, in fact, the opposite was the case, I a third time severed my connection with the Canadian Indian department, leaving all quiet on the different reservations.
The country, after the rebellion, and since the railroad was built, had grown rapidly in population, and much stock was brought in. The work of the police was now different altogether to what it had been in the previous years, a railroad was built through the country, and branch lines were building; good, comfortable buildings had been erected in place of the old log forts; the transport was excellent, and food and clothing were of the best quality. The long journeys that used to be made were now a thing of the past, as small detachments, with good buildings, were stationed at different points along the Indian reservation and along the boundary lines. But the force was as necessary as in the old days, or even more so, and will continue to be so for many years to come. Although a shortsighted policy of late years has decreed the reduction of this splendid and necessary force, it will eventually be found that the country, for a long time to come, cannot get on without them, considering the multiplicity of duties performed by this force. Although for some years past, owing to the false Government policy, the southern portion of these Territories has been at a standstill as far as settlement goes, it is still imperative that a strong force should be along the boundary line, in close proximity to Indian reserves and cattle ranches, as well as the white settlements scattered through the country. It is a duty that can only be performed by such a force as the Mounted Police, who have had long experience and training in the country itself. There may not be, and probably is not, any necessity for a large police force at a place like Regina, or even Calgary, but in the south and north the time will be long in coming before they can be dispensed with. Less centralization and more scattering of the force in small detachments should now be the policy, as the time is past when an Indian outbreak in the west can be looked for, and as the settlement of this western country is for some cause very slow, the few ranches and villages are wide apart, and it is at those points that police are required.
It is not my intention to carry this book beyond the spring of 1886, although at some future time I may do so, and also give a fuller account of the rebellion in 1885, but I have endeavored in this short volume to show the actual police work performed, and necessarily had to include much Indian and Indian department matter.
Many of the old officers and men engaged in the force in the years comprised in this volume are dead, and as time passes there is less likelihood of an account of the work done ever being written, and I have therefore written, although with but few books or reports to refer to, most of the old reports having long since been destroyed, with a personal knowledge of the subject throughout, and with the thought that
some record should be left by one actually engaged in the work of the splendid services rendered by the Northwest Mounted Police to the Canadian Government and the country generally. I have endeavored to do this, and although most incomplete and faulty in many respects, I have at least told in a short form, facts, and left on record a short history of the police work in the early days.
I might mention that during the summer of 1885 one of the oldest officers, Superintendent Winder, died at Fort Macleod. He had left the force a few years previously, having been one of the first to get a commission in 1873, and going through all the hardships we all underwent. He started, after leaving the force, one of the first cattle ranches in southern Alberta, which was, and still is, most successful. His loss left another gap amongst the old policemen, which is year by year growing wider, and it will only be a few years before we shall all be of the past, and ourselves and our work forgotten, as must happen with nearly all old pioneers, although the result of their work may remain a monument for ever.
BY JUNE, 1885, the rebellion in the north might be said to have ended, with the exception of scattered bands of Indians who had taken to the woods in the far north. There were parties of police and scouts after these bands, and they were brought in one by one during the summer. On July 2, Big Bear, the leading Cree rebel chief, was captured by Sergeant Smart of the police, and the detachment with him, near Ft. Carleton. This chief, together with many other prisoners, was taken to Regina shortly afterwards for trial. The execution of Riel and other rebels some time afterwards, is too well-known for repetition.
The officers and men in other parts of the north and operating with different militia regiments did good and valuable service. Superintendents W. Herchmer and Neal served with the column sent from Swift Current to the relief of Battleford; Superintendent Herchmer acting as second in command to Col. Otter, who reported both officers specially, for the services rendered by them at the fight at Cut Knife. Superintendents Steele and Perry held important commands while serving with the Alberta field force under General Strange in the country to the north and east of Edmonton, and were most highly commended by that officer for their ability, energy and zeal.
Superintendent McIllree did excellent work south of the C.P. railroad, watching the Cypress hills and to the boundary line, while Superintendent Cotton had his hands full in the west, in the Macleod district. All other officers and non-commissioned officers and men did their work most thoroughly and well.
At the fight at Cut Knife the police under Superintendent Herchmer showed the greatest bravery, two, Corporal Lowry and Trumpeter Burke, being killed in that action, and Sergeant Ward badly wounded. Superintendent Steele in command of a troop of scouts raised by him at Calgary, together with twenty-five police of the command that had been under him in the mountains, was present at all the operations of the Alberta field force under command of Major-General Strange, who speaks most highly of the work done by the police, stating in his report that during the whole of the operations of the Alberta field force, the Mounted Police with it behaved in the most exemplary manner,
and elicited the admiration of General Strange, and all the militia officers. He also particularly mentions Sergt. Ferry, Constables McDonald, McRae, Davidson, Bell, McMinn and Kerr, stating that all of the constables above mentioned performed the duties of non-commissioned officers to the scouts satisfactorily, and are able to do the work of either corporal or sergeant. “They have, owing to their experience on the Canadian Pacific railway, becoming thoroughly acquainted with the proper way of doing their duty as constables. I have no hesitation in saying they are collectively the best body of men I have ever had anything to do with. Sergt. Ferry and Constable McRae were wounded, the former at Loon Lake and the other at Frenchman’s Butte’ they are unable to do duty.”
The detachment of police that left Fort Macleod under Inspector Perry joined the Alberta field force under General Strange, and marched from Macleod to Edmonton and Ft. Pitt and back, 1,300 miles. They accomplished this, hauling a gun weight 38 hundredweights over roads sometimes nearly impassable, without the loss of a horse. Frequently the gun had to be dismounted from its carriage, and carried out of soughs in which the horses were mired, and as Inspector Perry stated in his report, the detachment of N.W.M. Police under his command has borne out the reputation for energy, pluck and endurance, which has been carried by the North West Mounted Police force during many years of long and trying service in the Northwest Territories.
At Fort Pitt Inspector Dickens (son of Charles Dickens), was besieged by the Crees under Little Pine with a very large following. These Indians had committed many murders, and were a pretty desperate lot. Inspector Dickens had to abandon the fort, and went down the
Saskatchewan river with his party, by road to Battleford, where they arrived without any loss; Fort Pitt was burnt to the ground by the Indians, after the police had left, but the Indians met with a heavy reckoning at the hands of the Alberta field force, a short time afterwards.
A sad death occurred at Batoche after the fight was over and the rebels defeated; Inspector J. French who was through the fight from beginning to end, and who had shown great bravery throughout, was standing at the window of a house in the village, looking down on the street that was filled with troops and civilians, when a shot was fired from among the crowd by an Indian, which- striking him in the heart- killed him instantly. The Indian was seized and riddled with bullets. Inspector French was a brother of Major General French, the first Commander of the force, and had been an officer in the Irish militia previous to joining the N.W.M. Police in 1874; he left a wife and large family, and being a favorite among his brother officers, his untimely death was much regretted. He was about the last man killed in that section during the rest of the rebellion.
In the south among the plain Indians, things had remained quiet during the summer. When word was received by telegraph at Fort Macleod of the Duck Lake fight, I was on a ranche about three miles from Macleod and was called up in the middle of the night by a message from Superintendent Cotton, commanding the police in that district, who was stationed at the fort. On going over, I found a great state of excitement existing in the fort, word having just been received of the outbreak of the rebellion in the north, and great uncertainty existed as to the attitude the plain Indians would take. Superintendent Cotton requested me to take charge of Treaty No. 7, and visit the Indians at once. This I declined to do, unless full power was given me to act as I deemed fit, stating that I had resigned the agency on account of orders received from Ottawa instructing me to act in a manner which I knew could only end in disaster. I, however, told him that I was quite ready to do anything I possibly could for the police or that would be of any advantage to the country.
He requested me to visit the Bloods, and find out their feelings and advise them to remain quietly on their reserves. This I agreed to do on the following day, when he and I together drove out to the Blood reserve. I sent messengers through the camps to call the Indians together, and a very large number collected. I gave them an account of what was going on in the north, and advised them to remain quiet on their reserves. They had a good deal to say, and many complaints to make, particularly that they had not enough to eat, but altogether the meeting was satisfactory. I promised them more food, in which I saw they were much in need. On our return to Macleod I found the following telegram awaiting me from the government: “You are authorized to act for the government in Indian matters in any way which you may deem advisable. E. Dewdney, Lieutenant-Governor Northwest Territories.”
I therefore determined to take charge of the treaty for the summer, and notified the Indian commissioner accordingly; I also instructed the agent at the Bloods to increase the rations of beef on that reserve at once, and I started for the Blackfoot crossing as soon as possible, it being the most important point in the treaty, and the agent, Mr. Begg being away, it was most necessary that I should not lose any time in getting there. I found the Blackfeet even more excited than the Bloods, as messages had been received from the Crees and half-breeds asking the Blackfeet to join them. They also complained of not having enough food, so I increased their rations to the same as the Bloods. I remained a week with them, going from camp to camp, and when I left for Calgary, I was sure that there would be no trouble caused by the Blackfeet. I found quite an excitement at Calgary, as false rumors had been circulated there as to the attitude of the Blackfeet, and it was reported that they intended to make a raid on the town. These fears I soon quieted, and after visiting the Sarcees and Stonies, and leaving them quiet, I returned as quickly as possible to Macleod.
Matters had remained quiet at Fort Macleod, a corps of scouts under Captain Stewart had been raised, and had gone to Medicine Hat. I visited the Piegans and Bloods several times, and finding no danger to be apprehended from them, I returned to the Blackfoot crossing. I remained among the Blackfeet until the close of the rebellion, making an occasional trip to Calgary and several to the Bloods and Piegan reservation. I had not the slightest trouble with any of these Indians, who behaved well. I formed a corps of Blackfeet scouts, and sent many of them north to keep me posted as to movements in that section, and they did this work most satisfactorily. I had continual communication with the Lieutenant-Governor, who kept me informed of what was going on in the north, and I finally persuaded him to pay a visit to the Blackfeet, who were most anxious to see him. A great council was held, which went off very quietly, and many promises were made to the Indians, which were, as usual, broken in after years. Sir John Macdonald telegraphed from Ottawa to Crowfoot the head Blackfoot chief as follows: “The good words of Crowfoot are appreciated by the big chiefs at Ottawa. The loyalty of the Blackfeet were never be forgotten. Crowfoot’s words shall be sent to the Queen. All Mr. Dewdney’s promises shall be faithfully carried out.” (15-4-85- Forwarded to Mr. C.E. Denny, Fort Macleod.)
Yet, in spite of the above, a year had not passed before the rations were again cut down, and have been so ever since. With the exception of the Lieutenant-Governor and his party, there were but few visitors to the Blackfeet during the summer; and with the exception of the Church of England clergyman and the Catholic priest, who both remained steadily at their posts, no other missionaries visited us, although it has been reported otherwise. Father L’Comte visited the reserve once, and that was with the Lieutenant-Governor’s party. I received a letter from him Calgary during the summer asking me to go to that place and send a party of Blackfeet away, who were camped there’ this I did. I also during the summer received the following telegram, which speaks for itself:
“Regina, May 1st.
“A few Crees, some thirty in number, skulking around Cypress. Would like Blackfeet to clean them out. Could this be done quietly? Advise me before taking action.”
To this I replied as follows:
“Blackfoot Crossing, May 1st.
“Better not send Blackfeet; would all wish to start out. Could not keep track of them.”
It can, therefore, be seen what there was to contend against. Not only was there plenty of work required to keep the Indians quiet on their reserves, but you also had to combat orders issued with an utter ignorance of Indian ways. The result of such an action as that advised above would have taken all the able-bodied Indians out of Treaty No. 7 and have started a nice little war to get them back again. I might relate more of these wise moves, but I think the one is sufficient, and if the northern Indians, before the rebellion, were handled in the same manner, there is no wonder that the outbreak took place.
Superintendent Cotton at Fort Macleod patrolled eastward towards the Cypress Hills during the summer, and did good service. Mr. Pocklington, Indian agent to the Bloods, and myself visited them in May. A copy of a portion of my report I give, as it shows how many different matters, small in themselves, tended to make the Indians uneasy, and these had all to be particularly explained to them. The raising of companies of scouts at Calgary and Macleod they could not at all understand, and there were always evil-disposed persons who would tell them that it was the intention to attack them, and, unless these reports were contradicted, much trouble might have been caused.
“Fort Macleod, 17th May, 1885.
“To the Indian Commissioner at Regina.
“Sir,- I have the honor to report that Mr. Pocklington and myself visited the Blood reserve yesterday, and held a council with the Indians. I gave them the message you gave Crowfoot, and also his reply, and a message Crowfoot sent by me to the Bloods and Piegans, to the effect that they were to remain quietly on their reserves at work. The Bloods had a few complaints to make, but most of them were easily settled. Mr. Pocklington had seen Mr. Cochrane, and will take possession of his place next week; an issue house will be established there, much to the satisfaction of the Indians. It was necessary that the beef rations of the Bloods should be increased, as they had already heard that the Blackfeet have extra beef. This extra ration through this treaty was most necessary, as the ration they were getting was barely enough to keep them alive. I am glad to say that I had an opportunity to place Mr. Pocklington on a sound footing with the Bloods, who had held him responsible for many refusals to applications made by them for articles, etc., which he had no authority to grant.
“The Bloods, if quietly handled during this summer, will not leave their reserves, but work on their farms. It is most important in dealing with the Bloods, Blackfeet and Piegans, this summer, that their attention should be withdrawn from anything going on outside of this treaty. There will, no doubt, be a change in garrison of the different police posts at Calgary and Macleod, and strict instructions should be given that, when it is necessary for these new men to visit our Indian camp for the purpose of m
aking an arrest, they should be accompanied by an officer of the Indian Department known to the Indians, and that in no case should a party of militia go to an Indian camp without this step being taken.
“My reason for this is that the Indians are used to the police going into their camps for prisoners, but do not understand men dressed in another uniform doing this duty. Just before I left the crossing, quite a stir was made in the upper Blackfoot camp by Major Hatton, from Calgary, entering that camp in the middle of the night with a party of militia on a patrol, and great excitement prevailed for several days.
“It was only very rarely that any of the militia in the west visited the reserves, those in command being always most careful on that point, leaving much matters altogether in the hands of the police and Indian department, who brought the Indians of Treaty No. 7 quietly through the year 1885 without a hitch, while had inexperienced hands held the reins an outbreak of the Blackfoot tribe would most certainly have taken place, causing great loss of life and property, to say nothing of the cost.
IT IS NOT MY INTENTION to write a history of the outbreak among the halfbreeds and Indians in the Northwest during the year 1885, the subject has been written on hundreds of times already, and little is left to record. I will only give a short outline of the beginning of the trouble in the vicinity of Battleford in the spring of that year, and the part taken in it by the Mounted Police. Much was said derogatory to this force after the rebellion was put down, not one word of which was true, as their efficiency and conduct during the time of this uprising, (in which they took the most active and arduous part) was exemplary.
As I have shown in previous chapters, for some years past matters had been going on badly among the Indians. What with cutting down the rations and settlers coming into the country, and bad advice given them by the hundreds of dissatisfied halfbreeds who principally lived near and in the Crees residing on, or off, their reservations in that section, to come sooner or later, and did arrive in 1885. Many halfbreeds who were in the Red River rebellion under Riel, lived in the north, and their old leader who had only a year or two previously been pardoned and allowed to return to Canada by the Dominion government, had rejoined them and was again the leader in a revolt, comprising nearly all the Crees residing on, or off, their reservations in that section. The Blackfeet and other plain Indian tribes, who heretofore had always been at war with the Crees, and had more than held their own against them, keeping them from the plains altogether, had at the instance of the whites made peace with their old enemies and perfectly well knew what was about to take place in the north, but although much pressed by the Crees had not yet made up their minds to join them, having still a deep rooted enmity towards those northern tribes.
The Blackfeet in the spring of 1885 were far from being settled, and a very little would have caused them also to break out, in which case a clean sweep would have been made of the thousands of head of stock on the plains, and the unprotected settlements would have been wiped out. The expense and loss of life to subdue the plain Indians had they followed those of the north, would have far exceeded that incurred (great as it was) to suppress the rebellion that did occur, and great anxiety was shown by the Canadian government and also in all western settlements as to the action the plain Indians would take.
In the north during the previous year many meetings were held by Riel, his audiences being half breeds and Indians who had, or fancied they had, grievances. These meetings were reported by Superintendent Crozier in command of the police at Battleford, who states, “I have already reported that I believe the Indians sympathise with the half breeds, nor could anything else be expected, being close blood relations and speaking the same language, what may be the result of this half breed agitation, or what result it may have on the Indians, of course I cannot foretell.” In August 1884, Sergeant Brooks at Prince Albert, reported a meeting held by Riel together with Big Bear, and again a meeting held by Indians at Duck Lake. Sergeant Keenan at Duck Lake, again reported in August and September, meetings held by Riel and other dissatisfied half breeds and Indians, and Sergeant Keenan stated that at a meeting held September 1st, at which Riel, Jackson, Scott, and Isbister, three of Riel’s strongest supporters, were present, speeches were made condemning the government, and Jackson stated that the country belonged to the Indians and not to the Dominion of Canada. These reports were all forwarded by the Commissioner to Ottawa, together with many from the superintendent in command in the north, showing that he looked upon matters as serious, but still the government until an actual outbreak took place, seemed to give no credence to them, either through ignorance or incapacity of their officials, such as was shown the year previous in dealing with the Indians in the west.
The number of police stationed in the north, and divided up between Battleford, Carleton, Prince Albert and Fort Pitt, in the spring of 1885, was only 200 of all ranks, and they were continually on the watch for what was going on, reporting the same. Superintendent Gagnon reported in December 1884 that the half breeds had held a large meeting at Batoche, and forwarded petitions to Ottawa, and that they were trying to induce Riel to remain among them, offering him a well furnished house to live in.
Superintendent Crozier reported in January 1885 that Little Pine, the Cree chief, had held a large meeting at Duck Lake, and that this chief had tried to induce a number of Blackfeet to join him and move northward in the spring. Matters went on about the same until towards the end of February (in fact quieting down if anything) when Riel caused a report to be circulated that he had been required by the government to leave the country, at the same time getting up a meeting himself to discuss the question, at which meeting he was pressed to remain.
Reports then came thick and fast of the uneasiness of both Indians and half breeds, of their intention to prevent supplies coming into the country, and March 13, Superintendent Crozier telegraphed the commissioner at Regina:
“Half breed rebellion liable to break out any moment. Troops must be largely reinforced. If half breeds rise, Indians will join them.”
This message was sent to Ottawa at once, together with the recommendation of an increase of force being sent at once.
The commissioner left Regina Mar. 18th with all the men he could muster, consisting of four officers and eighty-six N.C. officers and men. Word was received by him March 19th that the half breeds had seized the Indian department stories at the South branch of the Saskatchewan, and held the Indian agent, Mr. Lash, prisoner, also committing other depredations.
No time was lost by the commissioner and party on the road, forty-three miles being the first day’s journey and the rest of the days in proportion. The time taken to reach Prince Albert was seven days from Regina, the distance being about 290 miles, and this in the coldest weather, through deep snow, so the hardships were very great.
On the road a second telegram was received form Superintendent Crozier, as follows:
“Beardy’s Indians joined the rebels this afternoon. The wire is cut, the rebels are assembled on south side of river. Prisoners are held in Roman Catholic church about a quarter of a mile up stream from crossing. All of One Arrow’s band of Crees joined them this afternoon. Many of Beardy’s also joined them. The remainder of Beardy’s will probably follow tomorrow. The number of rebels assembled this afternoon is estimated at from 200 to 400 men. They rapidly increase in numbers. My impression is that many Indian bands will rise. The plan at present is to seize any troops coming into the country at the South Branch, then march on Carleton, then on Prince Albert.”
At Prince Albert the commissioner raised volunteers and with his additional force of twenty five men proceeded towards Carelton, the scene of operations, where Superintendent Crozier had his head quarters.
March 26, when within nine mines of Carleton, the following despatch was received from Superintendent Gagnon:
“Superintendent Crozier with 100 men started on Duck Lake road to help one of our Sergeants and a small party in difficulties at Mitchell’s store. I have seventy men and can hold out against odds. Do not expect Crozier to push on further than Duck lake. All is quiet here.”
When the commissioner’s party were close to Carleton another despatch was received to the effect that Major Crozier had come into collision with the rebels, and had lost some men killed, and was retreating on Carleton.
And when the commissioner and party arrived Superintendent Crozier and party, with the killed and wounded, had just got in, together with the party of volunteers he had with him.
Superintendent Crozier had that morning despatched Sergeant Stewart and seventeen men with P. McKay of Prince Albert as guide, to bring in some police provisions and ammunition that were at the store of a trader named Mitchell at Duck Lake. They were met near that place by a large number of armed half breeds and Indians, who behaved in a very overbearing manner, demanding the surrender of the party or they would fire into the. This was refused, and Mr. McKay informed the rebels that their fire would be returned should they commence. The police pluckily held them off, retiring towards Carleton, to which place a man had been sent to notify Sergeant Crozier, who with all the men he could spare, about 100 civilians and volunteers included, at once went out to the scene of action, meeting the other party on their way in. He then proceeded towards Duck Lake to get the stores that the first party failed to secure. They met the half breeds and Indians at about the same place that they were first seen, but their force was much augmented, and they had sheltered themselves behind strong natural cover. Superintendent Crozier posted his men to the best advantage but was much outnumbered. The principal cover being the sleighs, and the snow being deep and crusted, quick movements were impossible. Superintendent Crozier states as follows: “I consider that the line extended to our right prevented the revels surrounding us. There we sustained the heaviest loss, because concealed from view to the right of the road, on which we approached, were two houses in which were posted a large number of rebels, and from whence they poured upon us a fierce fire. From this point they tried to gain and were working upon our right rear, the deep crusted snow however impeded their movements, thereby preventing them from accomplishing their purpose before the termination of the engagement.
“The engagement last about thirty minutes, and though the rebels were on their own ground, entrenched in ambush with the advantage of a commanding position, ready and waiting for us, we drove back their right, and had we been opposed by them on our right on anything like an equality, we could have done the same on their left, but there we had to contend against the enemy in houses and in ambush. The right of my line did prevent the enemy gaining our rear’ they attempted it at the cost of their lives, and they could do no more. Both the police and volunteers who composed by little escort behaved superbly. Their bravery and coolness under a murderous fire was simply astonishing.
“The enemy were in ambush, behind splendid cover, while we were exposed, yet not a man shirked or even faltered until the order was given to retire, and then they moved off quietly.”
Nine of the Prince Albert volunteers were killed in this first engagement, and five badly wounded, while three police were killed and six wounded. Superintendent Crozier states of the loss to the volunteers, as follows: “The Prince Albert volunteers lost more heavily than the police, because several of them happened to be extended on the right of our line where they were more exposed to the fire of the enemy in ambush and in the houses.
“The gun did good service and no men could have worked better than the gunners did that day under conditions that would have tried soldiers, however well disciplined. I did not think when the line extended, there was a house on our right, and that the enemy were ambushed about it in large numbers, so that I did not purposely expose one part of the line to fire more than another. The sleighs I threw out for no other purpose than for cover, and they were taken advantage of as such, by the volunteers and police indiscriminately, and if unkind or unfeeling remarks have been made, it was not by any of those who fought so gallantly together and received, without flinching, as hot a fire as men were ever exposed to. The strongest feeling of friendship exists between the Prince Albert volunteers and the Mounted Police, because all who were present that day, knew that no man shirked his duty, or shrank from danger, but that each unflinchingly and bravely took his chances and did his work. Though unsuccessful in getting possession of the stores, I considered that one consequence of my action was to force the rebels to give up for the time the attack on Ft. Carleton, which they had meditated and would otherwise have made on the night of March 26, and prevented the bloodshed that must have occurred.
“Before concluding the report, I may repeat that it was the rebels who attacked me and began the action. They had their disposition most skillfully made and nearly succeeded in cutting off my command, which they would have done but for the steady valour and good discipline of the men under me, on which I justly relied before setting out.”
I have mentioned this engagement with different extracts from police reports, as it was the first that occurred in the rebellion of 1885, it was also as far as severity goes, much the hottest engagement that occurred through the whole summer, taking into consideration the few engagements and the great odds to contend with. The police, in whatever action they were in, either acting alone or in conjunction with the militia, showed the same courage throughout, doing in fact most of the hard work, such as scouting, etc. As I have before mentioned, jealously was shown towards them, but not for one moment could a word be said against their efficiency and pluck. The commissioner mentioned the work done by the scouts as follows in one of his reports: “The importance of the work done by my scouts could not, I think, have been surpassed. These men, all perfectly familiar with the country, were kept constantly employed form the outset under the direction of a man (Mr. McKay) well qualified for such work. My scouts at all times labored incessantly, cheerfully and efficiently. Perhaps the most important part of the work done by the scouts was the driving back of the men employed on similar duty by Riel who, on various occasions, tried to scout right into Prince Albert. Ditch and Armstrong, two of the three men who captured Riel, were police scouts who had been sent by me with despatches to General Middleton. The whole country around Prince Albert was thoroughly scouted.”
Previous to March 26, Riel and his followers had robbed, plundered, and terrorized the settlers and the country. They had robbed many government and other stories, captured government agents and others, and had armed parties patrolling the country with orders to kill all who would not surrender. They had also encouraged the Indians to rise, and in spite of all proclamations and warnings had at last begun the threatened outbreak by attacking a government party under Superintendent Crozier, and killing and wounding a large number.
The force of half breeds and Indians at Duck Lake were about 400 armed men, the odds being too great for such a small force as were with Superintendent Crozier, to resist, and had not exceptional bravery been displayed they must surely have been annihilated. The total strength of the force at Carleton, both police and volunteers, was only 225 officers, non commissioned officers and men, and of these many were wounded. On the militia arriving in the Northwest in the following April under command of Major General Middleton, the police were put under his orders, and by that time the rebellion had assumed serious proportions, having extended to all the different Cree tribes in the north, and nearly all the half breeds were in rebellion. Strictures were passed on the police commissioner for not attacking the combined force of half breeds and Indians at Batoche (where General Middleton’s forces had an encounter with them) conjointly with that officer, but it was by a direct order from General Middleton that he did not do so, although both he and the police under him were only too anxious to try conclusions with the rebels.
General Middleton had under him at this Batoche fight about 1,200 men, while the whole police force with volunteers in that district, as before stated, was only 225 men all told, and as Lieutenant Colonel Irvine, the police commissioner, stated in his report after many unjust reflections had been thrown upon himself and those under him, it was indeed fortunate for us (the Northwest Mounted Police) that the development of these great territories is so closely and honorably interwoven with the history of the corps.